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Barça are about to begin what is hopefully going to be a long and successful first ever Europa League journey. It may only be the ‘second’ trophy in continental football, but nevertheless it is one that the team has never won before, not in its current guise or as the UEFA Cup as it was formerly known.
But just to get into the first knockout round ‘proper’, they’ll need to win a playoff against one of the runners-up from the first group stage. And they could hardly have wished for a tougher draw. Napoli are currently among the clubs involved in a tight race to win one of the world’s toughest leagues, Serie A
19 years later
After 191 games in the Champions League in the last 18 seasons, FC Barcelona are back in this competition for the first time since it was rebranded. The last time the Catalans contested what was known then as the UEFA Cup was 2003-04, when they were eliminated in the round of 16 by Celtic. Current manager Xavi Hernández was on the pitch for both those games against the Scottish side.
FC Barcelona and Napoli have only ever met in official competition on one occasion, and that was just two seasons ago in the Covid-hit 2019/20 campaign. The teams drew 1-1 in February and then had to wait until August before they could complete the tie, which saw Barça qualify for the quarter finals with a 3-1 win at Camp Nou.
Before that, the teams had met in five friendlies, with Barça only on the losing side once:
25-05-1978. Naples: Napoli 1-1 FC Barcelona
22-08-2011. Camp Nou: FC Barcelona 5-0 Napoli
06-08-2014. Geneva: FC Barcelona 0-1 Napoli
07-08-2019. Miami: FC Barcelona 2-1 Napoli
10-08-2019. Michigan: FC Barcelona 4-0 Napoli
Fortress Camp Nou
Barça played 39 home fixtures over the years in the old UEFA Cup and won 26 of them with seven ending in draws and just six in defeats. The only Italian visitor before now has been Lazio in the round of 16 in 1975, with Johan Cruyff among the goalscorers in a 4-0 win.
Having just won 3-2 against Elche and 3-2 against Atlético Madrid, Barça are also getting the business done at Camp Nou in the present.
The missing trophy
The Europa League is one of the few trophies that is missing from the Camp Nou Museum. In eleven previous assaults on the competition, Barça have reached the semi-finals four times, but have never been able to progress any further:
1972-73: Round of 64 (lost to Porto)
1973-74: Round of 64 (lost to Nice)
1975-76: Semi-final (lost to Liverpool)
1976-77: Quarter-final (lost to Athletic Club)
1977-78: Semi-final (lost to PSV Eindhoven)
1980-81: Round of 32 (lost to FC Cologne)
1986-87: Quarter-final (lost to Dundee United)
1987-88: Round of 16 (lost to Bayer Leverkusen)
1995-96: Semi-final (lost to Bayern Munich)
2000-01: Semi-final (lost to Liverpool)
2003-04: Round of 16 (lost to Celtic)
Great record in round of 32
But the round of 32 has very rarely presented an obstacle to the blaugrana. In an incredible 72 out of 76 such ties, Barça have managed to advance into the last sixteen.
Positive against Italians
In 18 two-legged encounters with Italian clubs in European competitions over the years, Barça have played against Fiorentina, Inter, Juventus, Lazio, AC Milan, Napoli, Roma, Sampdoria and Udinese and have won 21 games, drawn five and lost just six.
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