Napoli are set to visit Barcelona’s fortress, the Camp Nou, for their Champions League Round of 16 second leg clash on Saturday.
With the first leg ending in a 1-1 draw at the Stadio San Paulo in February, the tie remains evenly poised, despite the Catalan giants boasting an away goal advantage.
Dries Mertens put the home team ahead in the 30th minute in the first leg, with Antoine Griezmann equalizing for the visitors in Naples.
#3 Changes expected in the Barcelona team
For the return leg at the Camp Nou, Quique Setien will be without a number of his high-profile stars due to injuries and suspensions.
Sergio Busquets and Arturo Vidal are out with suspensions, while Arthur Melo has stubbornly refused to play in lieu of his conflict with the board after his transfer to Juventus was finalized.
Ousmane Dembele and Samuel Umtiti are also still sidelined. Under these circumstances, Setien is forced to select from a handful of 14 senior players.
According to SPORT, the Blaugrana are set to deploy a 3-5-2 formation. This was the same not-so-successful formation which previously featured at the start of Setien’s tenure in January, with the former Real Betis boss later reverting to the 4-3-3 system.
With the 3-5-2 formation in place, it would see Nelson Semedo acting as a third centre-back alongside Gerrard Pique and Clement Lenglet. In the five-man midfield, Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba would assume the roles of right and left wing-backs, while Frenkie de Jong, Ivan Rakitic and Riqui Puig would complete the rest of the midfield.
In the attack, Lionel Messi is set to partner with Luis Suarez, with Antoine Griezmann on the bench as the Frenchman is still not 100% fit.
However, according to MD, 4-3-1-2 might be the formation that Setien will bank upon after its success in the team’s last domestic game against Villareal.
This would see the usual back four of Alba, Pique, Lenglet and Semedo, with the trio of Roberto, De Jong and pivotal Rakitic in midfield, keeping Puig on the bench.
Messi would assume the attacking midfield role with Griezmann pairing up with Suarez as a second striker, with Ansu Fati to come on as a substitute as the game progresses.
#2 Can Barcelona end Napoli’s unbeaten run in Champions League?
In the group stages of this season’s Champions League, Napoli drew against Liverpool and Genk away from home, along with a win at Red Bull Salzburg. At the Stadio San Paolo, they won two and drew one.
Under Gennaro Gattuso, Napoli finished seventh in Serie A but won the Coppa Italia after beating Juventus in the final – the club’s first silverware since 2014.
Ahead of the first leg, Barcelona were the firm favourites to win the clash, but Gattuso forced Napoli to bring their A-game, with the match finishing 1-1.
With the tie evenly poised at 1-1, the Italians are expected to put Barcelona under pressure from the get-go. However, the Catalan giants are more than capable of ending Napoli’s unbeaten run in Europe this season.
#1 Barcelona’s defence vs Napoli’s attack
Barcelona’s defence has been a talking point since the resumption football in Spain. Slow, ageing and lacklustre defensive performances cost the Catalans the La Liga title.
Moreover, too much dependency on Marc-André ter Stegen has also not helped Quique Setien’s side as they had the worst record among the top four clubs in the Spanish top-flight.
On the other hand, Napoli’s Fabian Ruiz has been given the freedom to dictate play By Gennaro Gattuso. The Andalusian midfielder, who has an exquisite left foot, enjoys driving forward or threading superb passes to his attacking team-mates and almost always sets off the alarm bells for opposing defences
Moreover, Napoli’s all-time top scorer, Dries Mertens would also compliment the attack. Despite the Belgian not being able to score in his last six league outings, he will be a key player for the Serie A outfit.
However, Lorenzo Insigne remains doubtful after getting subbed off in the last game due to physical discomfort.
Barcelona’s defence will be up against Napoli’s fast counter-attacking style of play, and if the Catalans are unable to absorb the rapid attacks, their dream of progressing to the quarter-finals remains bleak and uncertain.