In what proved a hard-fought contest at the Camp Nou last week should set the scene up nicely in Campania for another gruelling battle between two clubs accustomed to European drama. Barca and Napoli are Champions League regulars but now find themselves slogging it out for a place in the Europa League knockouts, with this play-off round very much uncharted territory for two heavyweight clubs.
Luciano Spalletti’s men got their noses in front in Catalonia after Piotr Zielinski broke the deadlock on the half-hour mark, but Barca pressed and probed, and were eventually rewarded for their pressure with an equaliser through Ferran Torres, who dispatched from the spot to restore parity.
Attention now turns to the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium, an area named after one of the game’s all-time greats, and a player who endured contrasting fortunes at both of these clubs, with his Barca existence shrouded by chaos and controversy, while his Naples stint — on the pitch — is immortalised.
Returning to the current day, and Barca are still trying to find their footing under Xavi with a youthful, Masia-inspired squad, while Napoli are flying high in Serie A, looking to win the Scudetto for the first time since the Maradona era, but they would certainly not turn their noses up at a chance for European glory.
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Napoli vs Barcelona: Match Stats
Pedri could have a huge say in the outcome of this contest. The fledgling midfield maestro created five chances for his Barca teammates in the first leg against Napoli which, at the age of 19 years and 84 days made him youngest player to achieve that feat in a Europa League knockout match for 11 years — Christian Eriksen (19y 3d) being the last to pull that off for Ajax in a game against Anderlecht.
Torres could also play an influential role in this showdown, as he did in the first leg. Incredibly, Xavi’s men had 21 shots against Napoli ,which is 35% of the total they managed in their six Champions League group-stage games earlier this season (21/60).
Torres, for his part, registered nine of those 21 shots, which is more than any Barca player has managed in the Champions League this season — and a tally surpassed only once by a player in a European game for Barca in the last decade, with Lionel Messi managing 11 against Juventus in December 2020.
17 Feb 2022 – Barcelona 1-1 Napoli – Europa League
08 Aug 2020 – Barcelona 3-1 Napoli – Champions League
25 Feb 2020 – Napoli 1-1 Barcelona – Champions League
You’d have to go back to that interrupted 2019/20 season for the last time these sides met prior to the first leg of this competition. Dries Mertens and Antoine Griezmann were the scorers that day in Naples, but a similar scoreline on Thursday would see a penalty shootout transpire.