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On August 8, after a 165 day absence, the Champions League returns for Barça as they take on Napoli in the second leg of the Round of 16. The tie hangs in the balance after the 1-1 draw at San Paolo.
Unbeaten in the group stage
In the group stage of the current competition, the Italians remained unbeaten. Two draws away, against Liverpool and Genk, and a win at Red Bull Salzburg were added to two home wins and a draw at San Paolo.
A new coach
Last December, Gennaro Gattuso replaced Carlo Ancelotti on the Neapolitan bench. The catharsis of the Champions League group stage didn't hide the harmful results in Serie A. Seven matches without a win ensured a change at the helm of the first team.
Gennaro Gattuso va arribar a la banqueta partenopea el desembre del 2019 per substituir Carlo Ancelotti | SSC Napoli
A change that, at the start, saw no positive change in the results. Four losses in the first five games meant that Napoli would drop out of the top three. However, Gattuso's combative mentality would eventually ensure that the situation was turned around.
From eleventh position to sixth. A move up the table that began in February with the Champions League draw against Barça on the horizon. Napoli were confident again, as they showed in the first leg against Quique Setién's team.
In Serie A, after the stoppage due to the coronavirus, Napoli would end up losing sixth position to AC Milan, however, concluding the domestic competition by beating Lazio (3-1) has motivated them. "I am happy with the performance of the squad," Gattuso said at the press conference after the match.
The team with the most possession in Serie A
With the Calabrian coach, the team would take a step back, gain defensive strength and look to transition into attack quickly. Despite the change, there have been matches where Napoli have had almost total control of the ball. They had the highest percentage of possession (59%) and the most passes in the Italian league (22,877) ahead of Juventus.
Coppa Italia champions
In a season of ups and downs in the league, Napoli were still able to proclaim themselves Coppa champions, winning the trophy on June 17 after beating Juventus on penalties.
A title after five long seasons, and one which has opened a pathway to the group stage of the Europa League next season, something they wouldn't have managed with their seventh place finish in Serie A. Had they lost to Juve, the Partnopei would've had to play the preliminary rounds of the continental competition.
Big names: Fabián Ruiz and Mertens
Fabián Ruiz is given the freedom to dictate play for Gattuso's Napoli. The Andalusian midfielder, with an exquisite left foot, can break up pressure with ease and initiate the transition into attack. A player who enjoys driving forward or threading superb passes to his attacking team-mates almost always sets off the alarm bells for opposing defences.
Fabián Ruiz i Mertens, màxim golejador de l'equip, dos dels jugadors a tenir en compte | SSC Napoli
Dries Mertens is the all-time top scorer for the Neapolitan club in all competitions, ahead of Hamsik and Maradona. A winger converted to a No.9 that tested Barça in the first leg in San Paolo, despite scoring the most goals for his team this season (16), he didn't score in the final six league games.
Insigne, a doubt
Napoli's captain was subbed off with physical discomfort in the last game, but Gattuso is optimistic about Insigne's injury. If he recovers in time, the coach will be able to count on his entire squad because he has no other injury concerns. In fact, the mandatory stoppage of the Champions League has benefited Naploli because if the first leg had taken place on March 18, three key players were a serious doubt: Maksimovic, Insigne and Demme. Furthermore, Koulibaly, Meret, and Kevin Malcuit were following their recovery process and were other possible withdrawals.
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