Barca land in Naples at the start of a huge week
Napoli host Barcelona in the first leg of their last 16 tie with a lot at stake since the Champions League is the largest priority for the side sitting sixth in Serie A. Despite poor league form the Blues have performed well in the competition under Carlo Ancelotti before his departure, taking the reins at Everton, in matchday one they recorded an excellent victory over the red half of Merseyside, the holders Liverpool. The Italian was sacked with his last outing being a 4-0 home win over Genk on matchday six, with the Blues finishing runners up in Group E, one point behind Liverpool. Barcelona are firm favourites for this tie and indeed leg, however, have a crucial El Clasico in the title race at the Santiago Bernabeu to contend with, following this fixture on Sunday.
Gennaro Gattuso impact
The AC Milan legend has revitalised the Naples based side since his arrival and will rise to the challenge of his first Champions League game in management in front of a strong home atmosphere at the Stadio San Paolo. It took some time for Gattuso to get his message across losing three of his opening four matches, but he has turned it around in style winning six of the last seven and pushing Napoli into sixth place making them favourites to qualify for the Europa League next season, such that has looked a long shot at times this campaign. He has eight wins and five losses from his 13 matches at the helm.
Napoli have an extra day of rest ahead of this fixture than the Catalan Giants, having beaten Brescia 2-1 on Friday thanks to goals from Lorenzo Insigne and Fabian Ruiz.
2019 Ballon D’Or winner Lionel Messi has been tearing it up of late as per usual, scoring four and completely his hattrick in the first half in a 5-0 rout against Eibar at Camp Nou on Saturday. Though the match with Real Madrid could take priority over this one, seems doubtful and also they have four days to recover anyway.
It throws up the relevance of their last game in the competition, despite Ernesto Valverde rotating his players that day with nothing to play for in the group stage they were still able to pull off a 2-1 win against Inter Milan at the San Siro, youngsters Carles Perez and Ansu Fati grabbed the fatal goals to knock Antonio Conte’s men into the Europa League on that evening. Demonstrating that should Quique Setien make some alterations which is unlikely but would be understandable, the second string should have enough to get a positive result with the experience of doing so in Italy in their recent memory.
Napoli’s core of experienced players will turn up in a big way in this one and push the Spanish champions who will have to earn their place in the last eight.