Barcelona welcome Napoli to Camp Nou tomorrow evening in the first straight knockout round of the Europa League. It’s an intriguing clash between two of Europe’s most historic football clubs, one that could very well be in the Champions League.
But it isn’t. Barcelona dropped down to the Europa League after they failed to get out of their Champions League group, finishing third behind Bayern Munich and Benfica.
Napoli, usually a Champions League participant, competed in Europe’s second-tier competition from the jump this season. They finished second in their group behind Spartak Moscow.
Barcelona are currently fourth in La Liga, level on points with fifth-placed Atletico Madrid and a point ahead of sixth-placed Real Sociedad. Real Betis, Sevilla and Real Madrid are ahead of them.
Napoli are third in Serie A, a point behind Internazionale and two behind league leaders Milan. Juventus are in fourth, seven points behind the club synonymous with the south of Italy.
“It’s the same pressure we have in the Champions League, where we’re used to winning. But we give [the Europa League] a lot of value. It’s a very important game. We’d like to be in the Champions League, but we give it a lot of value.
“We’re going into the Europa League with a lot of desire to compete and to win. I encourage our supporters to come out because we’re going to leave everything out there on the pitch.”