Europa League: why Napoli are favourite against Barcelona

by | Dec 14, 2021 11:03

Napoli have been paired with Barcelona in the Europa League knockout round playoff and Stephen Kasiewicz reckons the Partenopei are favourite against the Catalans.

It used to be the draw every club dreaded and the death knell for European progress.

However, Napoli must believe there is nothing to fear after being paired in the Europa League playoff against a rapidly declining Barcelona.

Only a skeleton of the team which ruled the continent remains, as Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets hang on waiting for better days with club legend Lionel Messi departed.

An ignominious drop from the Champions League, like a Hollywood A-lister reduced to making infomercials just to remain in the spotlight, is not what is expected at Barca but for Napoli, it represents a wonderful opportunity to progress in the competition.

A slew of concurrent injuries has stripped the Partenopei to the bare bones and if the situation worsens coach Luciano Spalletti may have to call upon the club’s Primavera.

Europa League draw: Napoli get Barcelona, Lazio-Porto and Atalanta-Olympiakos

Polish midfielder Piotr Zielinski was forced to come off in the shock home defeat to newly promoted Empoli with respiratory problems and Elif Elmas also had to be substituted after sustaining a calf problem, joining an extensive list out of action.

Inspirational centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly, centre-forward Victor Osimhen and Spanish midfielder Fabian Ruiz are all recuperating with varying time schedules to return.

It can only be hoped that when the knockout ties are played in February the Neapolitan club will be back at full strength and ready to repeat the same form which propelled them to the top of Serie A. In what promises to be an emotional meeting of Diego Maradona’s former clubs, Napoli must be considered favourites regardless of history, status, or previous meetings.

Despite a couple of league aberrations in the stunning reversal against Empoli and Atalanta’s scintillating win at the Stadio Diego Maradona, Spalletti has shaped a forward-thinking side that regularly dominates possession and plays with an incisive and effective elan. Although the veteran coach would never admit it, the Neapolitans remain legitimate Scudetto contenders despite the current injury affected glitch in form.

Napoli confirm Zielinski tests after breathing difficulties

It would be fatuous to rule Barca out, especially considering the individual talents of Spanish teenager Gavi and the Dutch international duo of Memphis Depay and Frenkie de Jong among others, yet their defensive vulnerabilities are more apparent than ever.

Eighth place in La Liga represents a monumental crisis at the Camp Nou and coupled with a first Champions League group stage exit in 20 years the normally imposing Barca juggernaut has almost ground to a complete halt. Trailing perennial rivals and league leaders Real Madrid by a staggering 18 points it would take a January transfer miracle to shore up a beleaguered squad shorn of every iota of confidence. The Catalonian giants are also mired in a financial mess despite claims to the contrary.

Missing the transformative magic of Messi, who often turned the mundane into the extraordinary in the blink of an eye, Napoli will never have a better chance to record a historic victory.

Napoli: race against the clock for Osimhen’s return against Milan

Spalletti has a wealth of options on the flanks and will be aiming to take advantage of Barca’s numerous defensive deficiencies out wide.

Napoli’s devastating transition attacks have been particularly effective in both Serie A and the Europa League and this is one area in which they could inflict further misery on the already struggling Catalan club.

Any combination of Lorenzo Insigne, Hirving Lozano, Matteo Politano, Adam Ounas and Elmas on the wings will stretch the Barca rearguard to the limit and create a host of opportunities.

Converting them is another matter entirely – Napoli registered 30 shots on goal but still could not find the net against Empoli. The tie is likely to be decided by the goalscoring form of Dries Mertens or the returning Osimhen – although Andrea Petagna may also be called up as an alternative if the injuries continue to mount.

Regardless, Napoli can approach the knockout tie with conviction, knowing that Barcelona are a pale imitation of the side which once passed their way to the pinnacle of Europe.

@SKasiewicz

4 Comments

  1. FERBAN

    The first choice Napoli 11 can certainly beat this mess of a Barcelona side. But their bench is weak, and a host of injuries could cost them.

    Either way, this is their best chance in a long time to knock out a traditional giant.

  2. Feroli

    If Napoli go into the games with a committed and positive attitude then they can win. And this is still Barcelona so Napoli should at least raise to the occasion. Feb is usually the time when Serie a clubs give up on the Thursday Europa league – as they simply can’t be bothered and prefer to ‘concentrate on the league’. At least the glamour of Barcelona should encourage Napoli to up their game.

  3. Tony

    If they can’t beat Empoli, how are they going to beat Barcelona, however diminished they are, Pleeez.

  4. FERBAN

    @Tony

    Every game is different.

    If past games meant anything to this tie, then Napoli wouldn’t be able to beat Rayo Vallecano, Alaves, Cadiz, Granada etc – same way Barca couldn’t.

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