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Their policy on managers is cut-throat and the high demand for trophies in Catalonia is sought-after, even in times of uncertainty.
Nervous Times For Setien
Quique Setien was appointed manager in January after failing to persuade their former player Xavi Hernandez to take over and although the underlying foundations have been built in a transitional period in Catalonia, time is needed for Setien to watermark his philosophy and guide his plan towards success.
Whether Setien will be rewarded with time to produce brilliance without lifting a trophy is an unanswered entity, but how Barcelona reacts to Spanish league disappointment will be a testament to or perhaps a reflection of their current mentality.
Since appointing Setien, Barcelona was knocked out at the quarter-final stage of the Copa del Rey by Atletico Bilbao, while their form in the league can be best summarised as coasting down a country lane before hitting multiple bumps in succession, though it was these bumps that cost them their third consecutive Spanish title.
Their form in the Champions League was expectedly impressive in a group that could have threatened an upset, but one that never managed to suffice. Victories over Dortmund and Inter Milan ensured that Barca took a domineering position at the summit of the table early on, while Slavia Prague came away from the Camp Nou with an impressive point in matchday 4 with what turned out to be a mini-blip on their quest to top the group.
Messi The Influencer
Lionel Messi doesn’t just dictate Barça’s chances of continuing their 35-match unbeaten home record in this competition, the Argentinian determines the mood too. “If we want to win the Champions League we’ll have to improve massively otherwise we can lose against Napoli,” he said recently, challenging the squad.
Messi’s words of motivation will be needed in large doses on Saturday night to prevent Napoli from advancing into the quarter-final stages, with Gattuso’s men hoping to mastermind an attacking plan that will exploit space behind Barca’s fragile backline. The Italian side travel to Camp Nou with hopes of causing an upset, having held them to a 1-1 draw in the first leg.
Napoli Looking To Build On Cup Glory
Napoli will end the Italian’s debut season in charge with silverware regardless of how their European campaign plans out, having beaten Juventus on penalties in the Coppa Italia final.
Their long exertions into the deeper end of domestic competitions have taken its toll on their squad and was a contributing reason to their 7th place finish in the league, with their success in cup competitions overshadowing a disappointing league campaign for Gattuso.
Napoli’s form in the Champions League has been far from disappointing though, possessing a ruthlessness in front of goal in crucial parts of their games. Champions Liverpool was on the receiving end of some piercing attacking play in Naples and was subsequently dispatched by two goals to nil.
Their attacking play has been divine at times, but their defending is sometimes left to be desired – especially away from home – with RB Leipzig providing Gattuso’s men with their sternest test in a 3-2 victory. Napoli, however, was left unfazed and unbeaten on their passage through Group E – finishing 2nd – a point behind Liverpool.
Barcelona’s concerns are mostly disciplinary related, with Sergio Busquets and Arturo Vidal suspended for the visit of Napoli, while Dembele (fitness) and Umtiti (knee) are both sidelined.
Napoli, however, has Kostas Manolas missing from the heart of their defence, with Maksimovic (ankle) and Insigne (adductors) both doubts for this fixture.
Barcelona – Ter Stegen; Semedo, Piqué, Lenglet, Alba; Sergi Roberto, Rakitić, De Jong; Messi, Súarez, Griezmann
Napoli – Ospina; Hysaj, Di Lorenzo, Koulibaly, Mário Rui; Fabián Ruiz, Demme, Zieliński; Callejón, Mertens, Insigne
Napoli’s attacking force that boasts the likes of Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne suggests that the Partenopei have the weapons to give Barcelona a difficult time. Gattuso has often utilised the lofted ball to exploit space behind the opposition’s defence, and with Barcelona operating a high defensive line at home, this is certainly a potential avenue or potential route to goal for Napoli heading into this clash.
Napoli will have problems defensively with limited options to choose from, Kostas Manolas and Nikola Maksimovic are sidelined, while his side have struggled to keep a clean sheet in recent weeks.
Even without the presence of support in the stadium, it only takes the fully lit Champions League arch to encourage Messi to release his party tricks and send Napoli into a daze. His 114 European goals are impressive enough to send shivers down your spine, never-mind turn the opposition’s legs to jelly. The Argentinian magician has the ability to take the game away from the opposition in a heartbeat and will be encouraged by Napoli’s defensive fragility.
Bet Builder Bets
Gerard Pique’s disciplinary record throughout his career doesn’t make for healthy reading and during this Champions League campaign he has picked up three yellow cards – putting him joint top of the list. Using the bet365 bet builder tool, you can get Lionel Messi to score anytime and Gerard Pique to be carded at 3/1*.
Dries Mertens has scored five goals in seven games during this Champions League campaign, including a double over two fixtures against Liverpool. The Belgian international is in red hot form and against a penetrable Barca backline, the odds for him to score are stacked high. Here are the odds for Dries Merten to score and Barcelona to win:
Unibet – 15/2*
Bet365 – 6/1*
*All odds shown were correct at time of writing (22:00, 5th August 2020) & are subject to change at any time.
Barcelona are unbeaten at home for 35 matches, but if any team can cause a shock, it is Napoli. Gattuso’s expertise in exploiting the space behind the opposition’s backline will be key towards any success that Napoli reap, while Barcelona have the ability to exploit Napoli’s issues with marking.
This contest has the capacity to deliver an action-packed affair with two footballing sides on display and when Messi is around, you can expect the roof to be raised off the Nou Camp – with the exception of no fans to witness. His diminutive figure and the left-footed wand has the capacity to get fans or neutrals off their seats, even in the comfort of their own home.
Author: Tom Griffin.