Thursday, April 25, 2024

Ilkay Gundogan: Change of manager makes Napoli tougher proposition for Barcelona

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 20 Feb 2024

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Ilkay Gundogan believes Barcelona face a “harder” test against Napoli following the Italian club’s change of manager.

The Serie A champions sacked Walter Mazzarri on Monday and immediately brought in former coach Francesco Calzona until the end of the season.

His debut in the dugout comes at home to Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash on Wednesday night.

Speaking to La Vanguardia, Gundogan said: “This is what the Champions League is all about, making big demands.

“I love this kind of pressure. Every game starts from zero. The fact they have just changed managers won’t make it any easier for us. If anything, it makes it even harder.

“There are other teams in the competition with more of a chance and better experience, but if we can reach the quarter finals, we are entering special territory. I am a realist, but I also know it’s difficult for everybody.”

Barcelona will see their boss Xavi leave the club at the end of the season.

The 44-year-old confirmed the news last month, with Barca falling behind rivals Real Madrid and Girona at the top of the LaLiga table.

Gundogan, who joined the club from Manchester City last summer after completing the treble, admitted he “didn’t expect” Xavi to leave.

He said: “Xavi played a huge role in me coming to Barcelona. If our conversations had gone another way, I wouldn’t be here.

“He made the difference and I’m grateful for that. I didn’t expect him to announce he was leaving at the end of the season, but I respect his decision.

“He should get a lot of credit. He thinks about his family, the players and the club before himself. Xavi loves Barca.”

Despite their struggles in the league, Xavi steered Barcelona to top spot in Champions League Group H.

Napoli finished second to Madrid in Group C and are also having a far from happy time of things domestically.

They lie ninth in Serie A and have won just twice in their last eight league games.

Barcelona have Joao Felix and Sergi Roberto fit again after spells on the sidelines.

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