This Europa League match has a Champions League feel about it as two regulars from the head table are forced to slum it in UEFA’s second string competition. Barcelona suffered a shock exit from European football’s elite after finishing third in their pool. Napoli ended as runners up in their Europa League group and must down face down the might of Barcelona if they are to remain in the competition. There’s all to play for here, and followers will enjoy a dramatic match with extra time and penalties available if required.
This second leg comes from Italy, and the tie hangs in the balance, with the aggregate score stuck at 1-1 following last week’s draw at the Camp Nou. That was a match Barca were expected to win and thought they’d head to Italy preparing to protect a lead, but things rarely go to plan for the former European champions these days. With no away goal rule in force this season, the winner of this match will progress to the next round, regardless of the score. Will the Italians hold their nerve and score a memorable home victory, or will Barca find some of their old magic and get their name in the hat for the next round?
The stats sheet shows these teams have met three times previously on competitive action, and Napoli has never managed a win in that time. The head to head stats stands at one victory for Barcelona with a pair of draws. The first encounter produced a 1-1 draw in February 2020 before Barca eased to a 3-1 home cheer later the same year. Napoli threatened their first win when taking the lead through a Zielinski goal seven days ago, but that advantage was eventually cut out by Torres, who struck a penalty on the hour. With both teams scoring in each of those three meetings, neutrals hope to see more of the same here.
Napoli held their own in Spain
Napoli may have been away from home against one of the biggest clubs in Europe and a favourite to win the Europa League, but they more than matched their opponents at the Camp Nou. The Serie A side wasn’t fazed by the size of the task ahead of them. Instead, they recognised that Barcelona was something of an injured animal and decided to meet them head-on. It was a risky strategy but one that paid off as they are now in with a great chance of going through to the next round. It’s always a shock when Barca are eliminated from Europe, and now Napoli has an opportunity to ensure they are dumped out twice in the same season.
Napoli didn’t have much of the ball in Spain, ending the match with just 33% of the ball possession, but they made it count. With four shots on target the entire game, Zielinski broke the deadlock on 29 minutes when finding the net against the run of play. It was the kind of counter-attacking play we have come to expect from the top Italian teams over the years, and they came close to seeing the game out. Napoli defended well, and their resistance to the waves of attack from Barca lasted until the hour when Torres slotted home a penalty to level and kept the tie alive.
We last saw Napoli in action on Monday when playing out a 1-1 draw away to Cagliari. That was a match they were expected to win but had to settle for a share of the spoils. The team enjoy an impressive unbeaten run in the league and are hanging on to the coattails of the Milan sides in what looks certain to be a three-horse race for the title. Interestingly, each of Napoli’s last three games in all competitions has ended in a draw, with all matches producing a 1-1 scoreline. A fourth on the bounce would force this one into extra time.
Barcelona feels the pressure
Barcelona failed to win the La Liga title last season, and if fans thought that was tough to take, it was just the start. Years of financial mismanagement was eventually punished, with the club forced to release star player Lionel Messi in a desperate attempt to balance the books. He didn’t want to leave, the club didn’t want to lose him, and the fans certainly didn’t want to see their side line-up without their favourite, but he is now on the books at PSG. Barca was lucky to be in the Champions League, but they lasted just six games before dropping into this competition.
The visitors find themselves out of the title race in La Liga, with Real Madrid currently in pole position, leaving the chasing pack choking in their dust. Barca’s main aim between now and the finish line isn’t to challenge Blancos but to concentrate on the short-term and ensure they make it into the top four, securing a place in next season’s Champions League. They may view this tournament as an unwanted distraction, especially when things begin to get tough and the squad feels the pressure of playing twice a week.
We last saw Barcelona in action at the weekend when they hammered Valencia 4-1 away from home. That was a magnificent result and the perfect preparation for this game. The level of opponent is greater here, but Barca must adopt the same tactics, coming to win, creating chances, and scoring goals. Aubameyang has settled in nicely at the club and fired a stunning hattrick in Sunday’s victory to secure his employers an important three points.
Napoli v Barcelona prediction
Napoli is at home and will be cheered on by their supporters. They played well at the Camp Nou, but that late penalty scored by their opponents means this game hangs in the balance. Napoli must win on their patch if they are to progress.
Barcelona underperformed last weekend, but they are capable of better. They know what is required of them on Thursday. This is a win at all costs game with the result far more important than the performance.
Europa League odds
Napoli is priced at 2.74 with 22bet to win with a draw 3.5 and Barcelona 2.48.
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