Napoli head coach Luciano Spalletti believes Barcelona still “have the same quality” without Lionel Messi, and has also drawn comparisons between Victor Osimhen and Diego Maradona.
Spalletti’s side host Barca on Thursday in the second leg of their Europa League knockout round play-off, with the tie finely poised following a 1-1 draw in the first leg, which was the Blaugrana’s first appearance in Europe’s secondary competition since the 2003-04 season.
In those 18 years in between, Barca have lifted the Champions League four times, with Messi playing a starring role as he amassed 672 goals across 778 appearances in all competitions.
The Argentina international departed on a free transfer at the end of last season for Paris Saint-Germain amid well-documented financial complications at Camp Nou, but Spalletti does not think Xavi’s new-look side are any worse off without the forward.
He told reporters at Wednesday’s pre-match news conference: “Barcelona are really strong. They had Leo Messi, but they have the same quality now, with great players everywhere on the pitch.
“Our target is to have a team that will remain in the fans’ minds. We must fight.
“Those who fight can lose, but who doesn’t even fight has lost already. We need to take risks, command and show what we want to do, otherwise they’ll force us to defend deep.
“It will be a tough game, we’ll have to be like soldiers in a video game. A battle to conquer a position. Earn space, or you’ll be shot and die.”
Napoli ramp up Barcelona preparations
— Official SSC Napoli (@en_sscnapoli) February 23, 2022
Spalletti suggested before the first leg that Napoli and Barcelona legend Maradona would be looking down hoping his former Italian side can secure victory.
The Italian head coach referenced the Argentine great again, this time suggesting he could see similarities between his star forward Osimhen and Maradona.
“With that header against Cagliari, he proved to have a sort of animal fury which is much-needed in key moments,” he added on Osimhen, who scored a late equaliser in his last outing.
“Maradona had the same thing and somebody else should have it in our team.
“You can see Osimhen has it when he faces his opponents. He has outstanding characteristics and some extra qualities that are not easy to find in other players.
“We can become a team worthy or Maradona. He liked spectacular football and I am sure he’d like to see it tomorrow.”
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