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It is almost half a year since Napoli and FC Barcelona drew 1-1 at the San Paolo in February. So much has changed since then that we are practically living in a different world. Nobody could have imagined at the end of 90 minutes in Naples that by the time the second leg would be played, the entire Liga programme would have already been completed, all played behind closed doors, as will this game on Saturday at 9.00pm CEST.
New look Champions League
Not only is the Champions League being concluded in August, three months later than scheduled, but the format has been changed completely in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, which Barça will be remembering with a special message on their shirts for this game.
The quarter-finals, semi-finals and final will now be played in just ten days as single leg games in a single city, Lisbon, from August 13 to 23.
RB Lepizig, Atlético Madrid, Atalanta and Paris Saint-Germain were already through to the last eight after their games were completed in February, but four other games were left hanging in the air, including Barça’s with Napoli, and the second legs are finally being played this weekend. Manchester City and Olympique Lyon progressed on Friday night.
The match-ups have been decided all the way to the final, and Barça are in the theoretically harder side of the draw (none of the teams in the other bracket have ever won the title before).
Victory over Napoli would bring a quarter final meeting with Bayern Munich or Chelsea, most probably the German champions after they won 3-0 at Stamford Bridge in the first leg.
In Barça’s favour
Napoli are a much-improved side since Gennaro Gattuso took charge late last year, and the meeting in Naples was testimony of that. The home side took the lead through their highest scorer of all time, Belgian international Dries Martens, and had chances to extend their lead before Antoine Griezmann levelled in the second half – in doing so providing the lifeline of an all-important away goal.
Indeed, history suggests that 1-1 away is not a bad scoreline to take into the second leg of a European tie. It’s happened fourteen times before, and Barça have gone on to qualify on all but two occasions.
The stats all point in favour of the Catalans, who are chasing an incredible thirteenth consecutive quarter finals appearance (no other team has ever managed more than eight).
And Barça have not lost at home in the Champions League in 35 games, the second longest run of all time, while Napoli have only won one of their last ten Champions league away fixtures (away to RB Salzburg earlier this season).
Barça are also unbeaten in 15 games at home to Italian teams. All those results would have been sufficient to ensure passage to the next round, including two 0-0 draws which would see Barça through on the away goals rule.
Napoli have just finished outside of the top ten in Serie A for the first time in over a decade and have never made it past the round of 16 in this competition before.
Arturo Vidal was red carded in the first leg and Sergio Busquets picked up a yellow card suspension, meaning that two key members of the Barça midfield are unavailable for selection, as is Martin Braithwaite, who is not eligible for the competition.
Antoine Griezmann, Clement Lenglet and Ronald Araujo were also doubtful, but have all been confirmed fit and ready for the game, meaning that the French duo of Samuel Umtiti and Ousmane Dembéle are the only injury concerns.
Napoli are definitely without Greek centre-back Kostas Manolas with a rib injury, while there are question marks concerning Nemanja Maksimovic (ankle) and Lorenzo Insigne (thigh).
Did you know?
This will be Napoli’s first ever competitive game at Camp Nou, and only their second ever after they were the guests at the Gamper Trophy in 2011, losing 5-0. No Camp Nou debutant has been victorious since Rubin Kazan in 2009.
Leo Messi has scored against 35 different teams in the Champions League but Napoli is not part of his collection. After struggling with injury early in the season, he only has two goals in the tournament so far (yet is still sixth in the ranking for chances created!). Robert Lewandowski of Bayern is way out on top of the goal ranking with 11, while Martens of Napoli has amassed six (one shy of the club record shared by Edinson Cavani and Gonzalo Higuain).
Napoli have not conceded a direct free kick in 40 European matches. Let’s see if Messi can do something about that!
Having saved 83.3% of the shots against him, Marc-André ter Stegen is the highest ranked goalkeeper of the Champions League season.
Cüneyt Çakır is taking charge of Barça for the tenth time on Saturday. The Turk was the referee of such games as the 2015 final against Juventus and the 6-1 rout of AS Roma, and Barça had were unbeaten under him until last season’s 4-0 defeat at Liverpool.
What they're saying
As well as Quique Setién (video) several others players have been sharing their views ahead of the game. Clcik on the links to find out what they said:
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