PREVIEW | SSC Napoli v FC Barcelona

PREVIEW | SSC Napoli v FC Barcelona

The Champions League knockout stage gets under way with Italy visiting the Italian champions who have just changed their coach (Wednesday, 9pm CET)

It's two months since the Champions League last played before an FC Barcelona fixture, and two years since we heard it before a knockout fixture. After two disappointing years when the team failed to get out of the group stage, this year we're back!

The pursuit of what would be a sixth crowning as European champions continues this Wednesday night at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, Naples, with the Liga and Serie A champions going head to head in a 9pm CET kick-off. The return leg at the Estadi Olimpic will be played next March 12. 

Although both these sides are the defending champions in their respective countries, 2023-24 hasn't gone entirely to plan for either. Barça made up two points on Liga leaders Real Madrid at the weekend, but they are still eight points adrift of the top, while Napoli are in a far worse predicament, currently just ninth in their domestic championship.

Both sides are also out of their local cup competitions, Barça beaten by Athletic Club while Napoli were crushed 4-0 by Frosinone.

Another coincidence is the managerial situation. While Xavi announced his resignation, to come effective at the end of the season, Napoli made the shock decision to sack their own coach, Walter Mazzari, just 48 hours before the Champions League showdown, and Francesco Calzona has been called in as a replacement.

Fact is, both sides are eyeing the Champions League as the most immediate way to get their respective seasons back on the right track. But only one of them will be advancing to the quarter finals.

Familiar rivals

There was little history between these two teams until very recently, when after several years in the doldrums, Napoli have established themselves as a regular feature of the Champions League. In 2020, at the height of the Covid pandemic, Barça saw off the Italians 4-2 on aggregate, and the sides met again in the Europa League two seasons later, the Catalans once again progressing.


This season, while Barça topped their group, Napoli had to be content with second place behind Real Madrid, but finishing well clear of Braga and union Berlin, who mustered just six points between them.

Team news

Things are looking a bit brighter at injury.maligned FC Barcelona, with both João Félix and Sergi Roberto declared back to full fitness and included in the travelling party. But Gavi, Alejandro Balde, Marcos Alonso and Ferran Torres are all still out.

No such troubles for Napoli, who have a full-strength squad to choose from, and have been boosted by the return of much-missed striker Victor Osimhen, who has been away playing for Nigeria at the African Cup of Nations.

What they're saying

Both coach Xavi Hernández and midfielder Frenkie de Jong attended the pre-match press conference and the team's delight at being back in the knockout stages of the Champions League shone through.


Xavi discussed a number of aspects of the knockout tie, such as reiterating the desire among the team to win on their knockout phase return, and that "it's a wonderful stage for playing a great game". More details from Xavi's press conference can be found here.

De Jong stated that there "is a lot of desire and a lot of excitement" about the Champions League knockout stage return after a two year absence. Click here for further thoughts from Frenkie during the press conference.

New Napoli coach Francesco Calzona and team captain Giovanni Di Lorenzo then followed the blaugranes for their own press conference. Analysing their situation, they say that the team has to get back to playing with conviction, and that they are confident about their chances despite Barça being a "very tough opponent, with great players".

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