Barcelona host Napoli at the Camp Nou in the Europa League on Thursday night. The Catalan giants failed to reach the Champions League knockout stages after finishing behind Bayern Munich and Benfica. This is the first time in 17 years that they are not in the last 16 of Europe’s premier competition. Napoli only made it to the round of 32 in last season’s Europa League but is having a great season in Serie A and will fancy their chances after some big recent results on the road.
Barcelona has improved since Xavi came in but results are yet to match some of their performances. He has overseen six wins and four draws in 11 La Liga matches (one draw) and is eight without defeat in the league. The last six matches in all competitions have seen just two wins, though.
They conceded very late to drop two points in a 1-1 draw at Granada before losing 3-2 to Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup. A 3-2 defeat at Athletic Bilbao came next in the Copa del Rey. Barca bounced back with consecutive league wins as Frenkie De Jong netted late to win 1-0 at Alaves before a convincing 4-2 home win against Atletico Madrid. Their most recent match was a 2-2 derby draw with Espanyol as Luuk de Jong netted a last-minute goal.
Barcelona Team News
Barca is without three injured center backs in Samuel Umtiti, Clement Lenglet, and regular starter Ronald Araujo who went off injured against Espanyol. Eric Garcia will partner Gerard Pique. Dani Alves is not registered for Europe so Sergino Dest will play right-back.
Ansu Fati is injured and Memphis Depay is very doubtful in the attack. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could make his full debut up front with Ousmane Dembele could also start with Xavi calling him an important part of the squad despite his contract running out in June.
It is quite difficult to tell how much focus Xavi will devote to this match. La Liga is the priority and finishes in the top four there. The Europa League offers a route into the Champions League next season but is not expected to be the priority.
Barcelona will play on the front foot and try to win the first leg.
Napoli has had a good season in Serie A and is in the title race. However, they have dropped points in five of their last eight league matches. That saw home losses to Empoli (1-0) and Spezia (1-0). The side drew 1-1 away at Juventus before putting together four successive wins in Serie A.
A 2-0 win at Bologna was followed by thrashing Salernitana 4-1. A 2-0 win against Venezia came next. Their last match was a 1-1 draw with Inter Milan in a big match in the title race. Napoli took an early lead at home but struggled to control Inter.
Napoli Team News
The Partenopei are missing a few players for this match. Matteo Politano went off injured in the last match and Hirving Lozano is still absent in attack. Andre-Frank Anguissa should start after a sub-runout against Inter after his AFCON involvement.
Napoli is expected to use their best XI with Victor Osimhen starting up front and Lorenzo Insigne playing on the left-wing. On-loan Man Utd defender Axel Tuanzebe was not registered for the Europa League.
Napoli will hope for a good result in the first leg. The Europa League is a chance at silverware but Serie A is a top priority with the side in the title race and looking good for a top-four finish and Champions League football.
Barcelona have drawn 4 of their last 6 matches in 90 mins
Barca have conceded in 6 of their last 7 matches
Napoli have Serie A’s best defensive record (17 conceded)
Napoli are 5 away matches unbeaten (W3, D2)
Napoli have scored in their last 9 away matches (all comps)
This should be a good match. Barcelona is struggling a bit defensively and has players missing in that department. Napoli is a strong away side and can get a draw from this first leg.