Barcelona visit the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium on Thursday evening for the second leg of their Europa League play-off round against Napoli, with the scoreline currently tied at 1-1 (8pm kick-off, UK time).
Barca travel to Campania after a morale-boosting 4-1 win over Valencia at the weekend, in which Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang claimed the match ball, but Napoli are just two points off the summit in Serie A so also enter this showdown oozing with confidence.
Napoli vs Barcelona betting tips from Squawka Bet
Napoli team news vs Barcelona: Luciano Spalletti faces full-back quandary
The hosts have an extensive injury list that consists of Hirving Lozano, Matteo Politano, Stanislav Lobotka, Andre Zambo Anguissa and Lorenzo Insigne, with Giovanni Di Lorenzo recently joining that quintet on the treatment tables after he came off in Monday’s 1-1 draw with Cagliari, following a clash of heads with Giorgio Altare. His replacement on the night, Kevin Malcuit, then hobbled off late on with a calf issue, so his replacement, the largely untested 21-year-old Alessandro Zanoli, may come in here for the biggest game of his fledgling career.
Predicted Napoli XI vs Barcelona:
- Meret; Zanoli, Rrahmani, Koulibaly, Jesus; Fabian, Demme; Elmas, Zielinski, Mertens; Osimhen. (4-2-3-1)
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Barcelona team news vs Napoli: “Superlative” Pedri eyes Europa League glory
Samuel Umtiti, Ansu Fati, Alejandro Balde and Sergi Roberto are all long-term absentees for the visitors, while Dani Alves is ineligible for the Europa League after he was omitted from Xavi’s competition squad. Gerard Pique also returns to the side after missing the weekend’s win over Valencia through a domestic ban — Eric Garcia is likely to drop out, therefore.
That 4-1 win over Valencia has just given Xavi’s men an adrenaline shot of confidence heading into this tie, and none more so than teenage sensation Pedri, who the Barca boss recently described as a player “beyond superlatives” following his showing at Mestalla.
“There is no player in the world with as much talent as Pedri – and he is only 19,” Xavi said.
“He is absolutely superlative. How he turns, his understanding of space and time and the fact he uses both feet. It is amazing to have him in the team and we must take care of him.
“He came on for half an hour and was important. He makes the difference, in how we play, in the box… he wins balls back. We demanded he shoot more and now he has three goals [since coming back from injury].
“Look, he’s not a normal player. There are very few like him. Perhaps, at his age, he is already the best in the world in his position.”
The Spanish international enters this showdown having 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.
Despite taking part in a competition that pales in comparison to the glittering and lofty heights of the Champions League, Pedri recently talked up the “value” of the UEL and says Barca aren’t just there on token formalities, but are instead looking to seal continental glory.
“While it’s true we are not in the Champions League, where we would like to be, we are going into the Europa League with a desire to compete and win,” Pedri said earlier this month.
“The fans have to be excited. We are a young team and we are going to do our best. I urge the fans to come to Camp Nou because we are going to give it everything to win.”
Predicted Barcelona XI vs Napoli:
- Ter Stegen; Dest, Araujo, Pique, Alba; Busquets, Pedri, De Jong; Dembele, Aubameyang, Torres. (4-3-3)