Barcelona host Napoli in the second leg of a nicely poised Champions League round of 16 tie at the Camp Nou on Saturday (3pm ET).
The two teams played out a 1-1 draw at the Stadio San Paolo in late February prior to the COVID-induced suspension of the competition. Dries Mertens gave Napoli a first-half lead before Antoine Griezmann equalized just before the hour mark in a tight and even game.
That gives Barcelona the marginal advantage of an away goal coming into the return leg, but that would only come into play with a 0-0 draw. Given that just one of the two teams’ last 54 combined matches in all competitions ended that way, and that the foremost, legal USA bookmakers give Saturday’s match a less than 7% chance of doing so, it probably isn’t worth all that much.
Particularly so in light of Barcelona’s struggles for form in the rapid-fire conclusion to La Liga’s season. They held a one-point advantage over Real Madrid when the league restarted in June, only to drop nine points over their final 11 matches to end up five points adrift.
Towards the end of the campaign, a number of barbed comments flew back and forth from players and board members, including from Lionel Messi, and the general picture was one of discontent and disorganization. There were even rumours of coach Quique Setien being replaced prior to the resumption of the Champions League, but he does remain in their dugout.
Setien himself only took over in January following the dismissal of Ernesto Valverde. The underlying numbers suggest that Barcelona have been good since he came in, but his team have too often looked one-paced, more reliant than ever on Messi, and results haven’t followed. “If we want to win the Champions League we’ll have to improve massively,” Messi said recently. An early exit would put Setien’s position under serious pressure.
Napoli’s underlying numbers and results displayed a similar relationship down the final stretch of the Serie A season. The former were among the best in the league, while the latter were only fifth best. Seven wins, two draws and three defeats saw Napoli end up seventh in the table. That was their lowest finish since 2009.
Gennaro Gattuso doesn’t take the full blame for that, but although results did improve after he replaced Carlo Ancelotti in December, Napoli were seventh when he took over, had the seventh-best record in the league between his appointment and the end of the season and finished up seventh.
Setien marginally improved upon both the underlying numbers and top-line results of his predecessor at Barcelona. Gattuso improved top-line results while overseeing a slight decline in underlying numbers, although performances towards the end of the season did suggest that Napoli were beginning to improve by that measure too.
With that in mind, the two teams look pretty well-balanced coming into this tie. The availability of players in key positions might be what sways things one way or the other.
Barcelona are without the suspended Arturo Vidal and Sergio Busquets, although in a way that might actually work to their favor by giving Frenkie de Jong more of the midfield responsibility he held in the Ajax side that reached last year’s semi-final. They also have fitness concerns in defence, with Samuel Umtiti out and Clement Lenglet not at 100%.
Napoli likewise have a couple of central defensive worries. Kostas Manolas is out injured, while Nikola Maksimovic may also struggle to make the pitch. Napoli’s defensive solidity was already a concern given they kept just two clean sheets in 12 league matches following the return to action. There are also doubts over the fitness of forward Lorenzo Insigne. Without him, Gattuso’s team would look a little blunter in attack.
Neither team is likely to be at full strength defensively and so this could well turn out to be a more open match than the first leg, with a decent amount of chances at both ends. That fact is reflected in our concluding Barca vs Napoli predictions for this UCL game preview: Barcelona are the most likely victors in a match in which both teams can be expected to score.
Our Betting Preview’s Barcelona vs Napoli Predictions & Picks Verdict
- Bet on Barcelona to win on the ‘match result and both teams to score’ market @ +220 with Bovada.