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.
“They’re a compact, experienced team,” Xavi Hernandez said of Napoli as carried by Diario AS. “A team used to dominating the ball. But they also defend well with a low block. [Piotr] Zielinski is a surprise, like [Elif] Elmas. [Andre-Frank Zambo] Anguissa, Fabian [Ruiz], [Victor] Osimhen, [Lorenzo] Insigne.
“This is a Champions League team. We’ve not been lucky with the draw. Analysing them, you can see a lot of potential. The loss of [Stanislav] Lobotka is important to them but they have offensive full-backs in Mario Rui and [Giovanni] di Lorenzo. They’re a major rival and that’s why they’re competing for the Scudetto.”