Barcelona vs Napoli match preview: Possible line-ups, team news, match facts, prediction

Date and time: February 17, 6:45 p.m. CET
Place: Camp Nou
Competetion: UEFA Europa League
Arbitrator: Istvan Kovacs

Overview

For the first time in over a decade, FC Barcelona have been knocked out of the UEFA Champions League group stages. The Catalans finished third in their group, with Bayern Munich and Benfica taking the top two spots.

Now the quest for the Europa League trophy begins. While not as coveted as Europe’s top contest, it’s Barcelona’s only realistic chance of a taste of silverware this season. There is no doubt that competition will now be one of the main focuses of Xavi’s team.

The first and probably the toughest opposition the Catalans face is Napoli. The Italians have been unstoppable under Luciano Spalletti this season and are seven points clear of fourth-placed Juventus.

Defensively, the Italians were perfect without compromising on the quality of the attack.

What to expect from Barcelona?

When the Blaugranas were last at the Camp Nou, they ruthlessly wiped out Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid. The performance won praise from around the world and was widely called a resurgence of Xavi’s Barcelona.

However, he was very close to being defeated at Cornella. The visitors took an early lead against Espanyol before being caught by two deadly counter-attacks. Against the run of play, Barcelona painfully came close to losing the derby. It was only a last-minute goal from Luuk de Jong that secured a point on the night.

Can Luuk de Jong be Barca’s saving grace again? (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO/AFP via Getty Images)

Napoli are next on the fixture list, and Xavi is expected to stick to the same core of players for the Europa League clash.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen will start in the goal in the evening. The German has conceded four goals in the last two games and will be determined to keep a clean sheet once again.

Barcelona suffered a big setback when Ronald Araujo picked up the injury at Soleus late in the first half on Sunday. Although the Uruguayan is ready to push himself to play, Xavi would rather rest the defender than risk a more serious injury. In his absence, the twinning of Gerard pricks and Eric Garcia should start.

Dani Alves isn’t registered for the Europa League and won’t be able to play any role in the proceedings. Naturally, one would expect Sergino Dest take over right-back duties. To the left of the defense Jordi Alba is likely to return to duty.

Xavi is once again spoiled for choice in midfield. The abundance of talent in the squad cannot be done justice with just three midfield positions. For the crucial match, the trio of Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong and Pedri should start.

While Pedri and Busquets are vital to Xavi’s plans, de Jong can provide better defensive cover than other options.

For the last two games, the manager chose to deploy Gavi on the left wing. The teenager adapted without problem and appropriated the position. Against Napoli, the 17-year-old is likely to continue in this role.

Ferran Torres and Adama Traore will be the central striker and right winger on Thursday, in all likelihood. The winter signings have clearly made their mark at Barcelona and cannot be benched at this stage.

Likely Barcelona XI: Ter Stegen; Dest, Garcia, Pique, Alba; Pédri, Busquets, de Jong; Adama, Torres, Gavi

What to expect from Naples?

The Napoli-based side are currently on a four-game unbeaten streak and are heading to the Camp Nou with momentum on their side. Their last league defeat came in December when they fought against Spezia.

It looks like Spalletti will opt for the same formation, with two changes, which ended in a deadlock against Inter Milan at the weekend.

The Italians’ goal was guarded by David Ospina, who has 11 clean sheets in the league this season. In front of him, the formidable pair Amir Rrahmani and Kalidou Koulibaly should continue. Giovanni di Lorenzo will probably start at right-back, with mario rui taking over functions on the opposite flank.

Spalletti’s 4-2-3-1 formation features a solid double pivot. We are waiting Fabien Ruiz and André Anguissa to occupy the lower midfield, holding the fort against the Barcelona forwards.

Fabian Ruiz is in superb form. (Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images)

Matteo Politano is doubtful for the Camp Nou clash after picking up a calf injury against Inter Milan. The right winger will probably be replaced by Eljif Elmas who has had a sensational Europa campaign so far.

Lorenzo Insigne will almost certainly be deployed as a left winger. Our planned program will be complemented by Victor Osimhen like the number 9 and Piotr Zielinski play against him like #10.

Likely Napoli XI: Ospine; di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Koulibaly, Rui; Ruiz, Anguissa; Elmas, Zielinski, Insigne; Osimhen

marquee player

Victor Osimhen

Will Osimhen return for Napoli? (Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images)

In July 2020, Napoli announced the signing of Victor Osimhen for a club-record fee of €70 million. The striker has been described as a unique player who has aerial dominance, killer instincts and blistering pace.

However, the Nigerian couldn’t show his abilities for a long time due to injuries and setbacks. This season, however, he has shown what he is capable of when fit.

In 13 Serie A starts, he has scored six goals for the Napoli-based side. While he’s not overly involved in the build, his moments of magic are often enough to seal the game for his team. With the Nigerian boasting four goals in three Europa League appearances this season, Barcelona’s defense will need to be varied.

Match Facts

Barcelona previous games: DWWLL

Espanyol 2-2 Barcelona | the league
Barcelona 4-2 Atletico Madrid | the league
Deportivo Alaves 0-1 Barcelona | the league
athletic club 3-2 Barcelona | King’s Cup
real Madrid 3-2 Barcelona | Spanish Super Cup

Napoli previous games: DWWWL

Napoli 1-1 Inter Milan | A-series
Venice 0-2 Naples | A-series
Naples 4-1 Salerno | A-series
Bologna 0-2 Naples | A-series
Napoli 2-5 Fiorentina | Italian Cup

Head-to-head record

Barcelona 3-1 Napoli | UEFA Champions League 2020-21
Napoli 1-1 Barcelona | UEFA Champions League 2020-21
Napoli 0-4 Barcelona | Friendly Club 2019
Barcelona 2-1 Napoli | Friendly Club 2019
Barcelona 0-1 Naples | Friendly Club 2014

Key statistics

  • Napoli haven’t beaten Barcelona in their last four encounters.
  • Napoli have scored the opening goal in six of their last seven games.
  • Barcelona have conceded in six of their last seven outings.
  • Napoli have conceded the third fewest goals in Europe’s top 5 leagues this season, only behind Sevilla and Manchester City.
  • Five of Napoli’s last seven games have had a first-half winner.

Prediction

The Catalans dropped two points in their last game despite dominating proceedings, and the feeling of unfairness will push them harder than ever. Napoli are likely to score on the counter but Xavi’s side can pull off a win on the night. Home advantage will push Barcelona to a favorable result on Thursday.

Barca Universal Prediction: Barcelona 2-1 Napoli