Sunday, April 21, 2024

Prediction: Barcelona vs Napoli

Verdict: Home win

Best odds: 10/11

Bookmaker: 888sport

The second leg of the Champions League last-16 tie between Barcelona and Napoli, scheduled for Tuesday at the Estadi Olympic Lluis Companys, promises to be a thrilling encounter, with both teams eager to secure a spot in the quarter-finals.

The first leg ended in a 1-1 draw, with the star strikers of both teams finding the back of the net. Now, as they face off at again, the stage is set for a titanic tussle in Catalonia as they battle it out for progression in the tournament. With everything still to play for, fans can expect an intense and closely contested match between two formidable teams.

Barcelona

In the first leg at the Diego Maradona Stadium last month, Barcelona’s Robert Lewandowski showcased his prowess with a fine finish nearing the hour mark, bringing him within seven goals of his century in Europe’s top club competition. However, Napoli’s Victor Osimhen, making his first appearance since returning from the Africa Cup of Nations, leveled the score on 75 minutes.

Although Lewandowski’s goal wasn’t enough to secure Barcelona a valuable first-leg lead, they head into this week’s return game on home turf all-square and remain undefeated in five meetings with Napoli. Knocking Napoli out of Europe for the third time in five years would mark Barcelona’s first quarter-final appearance since 2020, a feat they seem capable of achieving based on their recent form.

Barcelona’s 1-0 win over Mallorca on Friday, sealed by Lamine Yamal’s superb second-half winner, extended their unbeaten streak to eight matches. Despite facing several injuries, they’ve managed to keep clean sheets in each of their last three games. With their hopes of securing the La Liga title fading and their Copa del Rey campaign over, the Catalans may be pinning their hopes on winning the Champions League to salvage their season.

Historically, when Barcelona have avoided defeat away from home in the first leg of a Champions League tie, they’ve progressed on 20 out of 21 previous occasions. However, they’ve failed to win any of their last four knockout matches since defeating Napoli in the ‘Maradona derby’ four years ago.

Team News

Barcelona’s injury situation has worsened since the first leg, with key players like Frenkie de Jong and Pedri set to miss the upcoming match. This could now be called a midfield crisis, with Gavi also unavailable due to an ACL injury. As a result, Andreas Christensen and Ilkay Gundogan may be joined by Fermin Lopez in a makeshift midfield. The absence of Ferran Torres, Alejandro Balde, and Marcos Alonso further compounds Barcelona’s injury woes, while Raphinha’s availability is uncertain due to an ankle problem. However, Ronald Araujo returns from suspension, providing a boost to the team’s defence.

Despite their injury concerns, Barcelona can rely on the experience of Lewandowski, who has been in impressive form with 18 goal involvements in his last 12 appearances in the latter stages of competitions. Additionally, 16-year-old Lamine Yamal, who made history as the youngest player to appear in a Champions League knockout game, will be eager to make an impact again and potentially become the youngest goalscorer in the competition’s history.

Napoli

Despite their history of struggling to recover from first-leg setbacks in UEFA competition, Napoli are determined to defy the odds and turn the tide against Barcelona. Under interim boss Francesco Calzona, the team has shown signs of improvement, going unbeaten in their last five matches. With key players like Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia in good form, Napoli are hopeful of causing an upset.

Osimhen has been particularly prolific, scoring five goals in their recent matches, while Kvaratskhelia has also contributed significantly, finding the net four times. Despite missing the spark of former coach Luciano Spalletti, Napoli have shown resilience and are not to be underestimated.

Moreover, Napoli’s impressive away record in the Champions League cannot be overlooked, as they have won five out of their eight away games since the start of last season. This resilience and determination make them a formidable opponent for Barcelona, despite the challenges they face.

Team News

With one more goal, Osimhen would become the most prolific Nigerian player ever in the Champions League, surpassing Obafemi Martins. Either side of Osimhen, Kvaratskhelia and Matteo Politano are expected to form a potent front three for Napoli.

However, the Serie A champions might face some challenges in midfield and defence due to injuries and other player availability issues. Jens Cajuste and Cyril Ngonge are doubtful with thigh injuries, while center-back Amir Rrahmani is also nursing a similar issue. Leo Ostigard is prepared to step in if needed.

Also, Piotr Zielinski was not registered for this phase of the competition as he refused to sign a new contract and is expected to join Inter Milan in the summer.

Conclusion

Barcelona’s resilience and ability to grind out results, especially in the face of adversity they miss several key squad members due to injury, have been impressive. Their knack for scoring crucial goals late in matches, as evidenced by their numerous La Liga points secured via goals scored after the 70th minute, underscores their mental fortitude and never-say-die attitude.

Even if Napoli manage to find the net at Montjuic, Barcelona’s determination and spirit suggest that they can rely on their resilience to see them through and secure passage into the Champions League quarterfinals.

Verdict: Home win

Best odds: 10/11

Bookmaker: 888sport

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.

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