Saturday’s Champions League second leg match between Barcelona and Napoli is on a knife’s edge. The Catalans have an away goals advantage thanks to a 1-1 draw in Naples in March. Although Barcelona left with the away goals advantage, they were far from the signature team that we saw over the last 10 years.
Napoli’s Dries Mertens scored in the 30th minute from a fantastic strike and the Partenopei played well throughout. However, Antoine Griezmann's 57th minute goal put the clubs on level terms. Since that game in Naples in March, Barcelona found a way to lose the La Liga title to Real Madrid. The Catalans finished as runners-up in La Liga and internal problems are boiling over.
The Italians finished the Serie A campaign in seventh place. They sacked Carlo Ancelotti after the group stage of the Champions League before hiring ex-AC Milan player Gennaro Gattuso. The new boss led Napoli to the Coppa Italia trophy defeating Juventus in the final on penalties.
Napoli’s objective is clear going into the second leg. They have to score to have any hope of going through. A goal turns the tables and puts the pressure on Barcelona.
The good news for Barcelona is that they are playing the second leg at home. In each of the last two seasons, Barcelona have been eliminated from the Champions League playing the second leg away. In 2018, Barcelona defeated Roma 4-1 in the first leg at home. They somehow managed a 3-0 loss in the following game at the Stadio Olimpico.
Last season, Barcelona failed in a more epic way. They defeated Liverpool 3-0 at Camp Nou only to go to Anfield and lose 4-0. Liverpool were without both Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah in that game. Those defeats will be in the back of the club’s mind as 2019-20 could be a trophy-less season. Barcelona have been guilty of conceding goals this season. They conceded an average of 0.92 per game in all competitions. They allowed goals in four of their last seven La Liga matches.
Napoli have nothing to lose on Saturday at Camp Nou. They simply need to play their game and don’t have to push for a goal too early. Gattuso masterminded a defensive masterclass against Juventus in the Coppa Italia final. The Partenopei even had the better chances to score against Juventus. The coach may not have been able to take Napoli into the top six in Serie A, but he proved himself in the domestic cup tournament.
Spanish media claims Barcelona manager Quique Setien will set up the team in a 3-5-2 formation. It was the formation Setien used when he took over Barcelona but after a run of poor form, Barcelona reverted to a 4-3-3 formation. The internal issues at Barcelona certainly have caused problems on the pitch. Rumours persist that Lionel Messi will leave the club. However, since his rise as a top player, rumours have regularly swirled that he would leave.
If Barcelona do play a 3-5-2 formation, it could see Nelson Semedo, Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet play as centre-backs. Samuel Umtiti is injured and Ronald Araujo has fitness issues. Making matters worse for Setien is the suspensions of Sergio Busquets and Arturo Vidal. Griezmann isn’t fully fit and could start on the bench with Messi and Luis Suarez in attack.
Midfielder Arthur has defied the club’s wishes and returned to Brazil ahead of a transfer to Juventus. Barcelona are considering legal action due to the midfielder leaving.
Gattuso could be without two important players. Fernando Llorente and Lorenzo Insigne are both suffering from injuries. They could be in contention for a place in the team, however.
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Napoli’s 33-year-old forward Dries Mertens will go down in history as one of the club’s best-ever goal scorers. Mertens has scored 125 goals and tallied 77 assists in 321 career games for Napoli. This season, he bagged the opener versus Barcelona, which was one of his 16 goals in all competitions. Mertens has scored six goals in the Champions League thus far.
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The second leg is likely to play out much like the first leg. The Catalans have issues galore. The internal problems have moved onto the pitch. Setien plans to change up the formation but it didn’t work previously. Is this the end of Barcelona’s reign as one of the most dangerous clubs in European football? Napoli showed themselves capable of holding Barcelona to a mere goal in the first leg. They don’t have to push forward to get a goal, so expect a low-scoring game.
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A 1-1 draw would send this tie into extra-time. Barcelona would prefer to finish of the Partenopei in 90 minutes. However, they must be concerned that giving up a goal will hand Napoli the away goal advantage. Gattuso’s team defends first and attacks second. They did concede 50 times in the league, but 2019-20 has been a rebuilding season for the club that will extend into next term.
Napoli have already signed Victor Osimhen this summer for next term. Osimhen cannot play in the Champions League, but Gattuso could get last summer’s record signing to step up. Hirving Lozano was exiled by the club in the middle of the season. However, he has returned and played in all but two of Napoli’s games after the Serie A restart.
Can Napoli overcome Barcelona’s away goal advantage? Yes. Barcelona have shown over the last two seasons they are not the team they once were in the Champions League. Add in the internal conflict at Camp Nou and it remains to be seen how willing the players will be on Saturday. Napoli have nothing to lose and this is their only shot a Champions League football for at least another year.
Saturday’s game should end in a score draw with extra-time needed to sort out which side goals through.
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The Camp Nou will host the Barcelona vs Napoli match
BT Sport will be showing the Barcelona vs Napoli match on Saturday.
No bookmakers will be live streaming Barcelona vs Napoli on Saturday.
The first-leg between Napoli and Barcelona finished 1-1.
The match between Barcelona and Napoli kicks-off at 20:00 UK time on Saturday 8th August