Who: Barcelona vs Napoli
When: Saturday, August 8th @ 3:00pm ET
Line: Barcelona -162 | Draw +310 | Napoli +440
When the Champions League quarterfinal draw was announced, we were all quick to start thinking about how Barcelona would fare vs. Bayern Munich.
The perennial German champs technically are only halfway to the quarters, but in reality, they’re through after blowing Chelsea out 3-0 in leg 1 of the round of 16.
Barcelona, however, has its work cut out for it before it can even turn its attention to oddsmakers’ second-favorite (Bayern is +365, behind Man City at +340) to raise the UCL trophy.
Coming off a 1-1 draw at Napoli in leg 1 (and with a crucial away goal in their pocket), Barcelona are in a good position to go through on Saturday at 3 p.m. That does not mean they should sleep on Napoli. The Serie A side is +225 to go through at the expense of the favored Catalans (-286). Even at full strength, I’d be concerned about this game if I were Barcelona, and they’re missing some key pieces. More to come on who’s available for the Catalans later in this piece.
Napoli Can Hang With Europe’s Elite
But let’s start with why Napoli should not be taken lightly, regardless of where they finished in Serie A this season (an unimpressive seventh place, for the record).
Napoli’s best quality the last couple years has been their ability to play well against Europe’s top clubs. This year, they beat Lazio (quarterfinals), Inter Milan (two-legged semifinals) and Juventus (one-legged final) to take home the Coppa Italia trophy.
They also notched a win and a draw vs. Liverpool last fall in the group stage of this year’s Champions League before giving Barcelona all they wanted in leg 1 of the round of 16. It’s nothing new, either: Napoli split two Champions League group stage games with the Reds a year ago.
So no, it’s not like Napoli is going to feel overmatched and back down from Lionel Messi and Co.
The Pressure Is On Barcelona
After failing to win La Liga this year for the first time since ’16-17 and bowing out of the Copa del Rey in the quarterfinals, they need Champions League success more than any team left in the field (though Manchester City might beg to differ). It’s not just that they lost their footing atop La Liga this year, it’s that they fired Manager Ernesto Valverde with his team in first place in January. Under Valverde’s replacement, Quique Setién, La Blaugrana finished five points behind Real Madrid despite entering the post-pandemic portion of the schedule with a two-point cushion.
Between the disappointment surrounding the team’s finish in this year’s Copa and La Liga and the disasters the club has endured in the Champions League the last two years, it’s impossible to overstate how much this game means for the Catalans.
Will Messi Get Enough Help To Pull This Off?
If you’re short on time, the answer is yes.
The best player in the world may be 33, but he’s got plenty left, at least to see his team through to a likely quarterfinal showdown with Bayern Munich.
But his supporting cast is a lot weaker than it should be considering this team’s payroll. In the Argentine, Barcelona has the G.O.A.T. up top, but the lineup is full of questions otherwise.
Nelson Semedo, Gerard Piqué, Clement Lenglet and Jordi Alba will likely form the back four in this one. Semedo and Lenglet are not yet proven staples for Barcelona, but could be going forward if they perform well in this one.
Who steps up for Vidal and Busquets?
No area is more uncertain than the midfield, with both Arturo Vidal and Sergio Busquets suspended for bookings in Leg 1. We should also point out here that Arthur is out, as he … doesn’t want to finish the season for the team that recently moved him to Juventus. Have we mentioned how dysfunctional Barcelona is right now, from top to bottom?
Anyway, Frenkie de Jong seems a likely starter, with Ivan Rakitic by his side, and possibly Riqui Puig. The 20-year-old Puig gave his team a much-needed boost of athleticism and creativity down the stretch in La Liga, but will his manager trust him with his job on the line? Several lineup prediction pieces (yes, those are a thing, apparently) have Sergi Roberto getting the nod, but if I were Setién, I’d give Puig the start.
As for Messi’s fellow attacking players, Luis Suárez will certainly join him up top, with Antoine Griezmann (who is reportedly healthy after a late-season injury) expected to line up on the left. Ansu Fati will be another option for Setién, and rumor has it that we might also get a rare Ousmane Dembele sighting!?
UPDATE: No Dembele for this one, but there seems to be a lot of optimism — from Setién and others — that he could be in the mix if his team reaches the quarters.
The Bottom Line
Regardless of how exactly the Catalans line up, I think (warning: bold prediction ahead) Messi will be enough to get his team through to the quarters, but I don’t like their chances vs. Bayern Munich.
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