Who: Napoli vs Barcelona
When: Monday, February 24th @ 3:00pm ET
Line: Napoli +220 | Draw +260 | Barcelona +120
We’ll get to the actual headline here shortly, but after another week of organizational chaos, we’d be remiss not to touch on the latest regarding the Catalans.
The Barcelona soap opera continues
Barcelona have to be happy to have this week nearly behind them. First, the club had to deal with accusations that it paid a third-party social media company to discredit key Barcelona figures opposed to president Josep Maria Bartomeu.
More drama ensued later in the week when, despite the transfer window having closed on January 31, the Catalans signed striker Martin Braithwaite from Leganés. The move gives Barcelona added forward depth in the wake of the Ousmane Dembélé injury.
Thanks to a ridiculous rule that doesn’t exist outside Spain, it also comes as a major blow for a relegation-threatened Leganés club that will not be able to replace its top scoring threat. Barcelona were merely taking advantage of a shoddy policy that any other La Liga club probably would have if it were down to three forwards. But it brought more negative spotlight for a club that hasn’t been able to avoid bad headlines over the last few months.
After an easy match-up this weekend at home vs. Eibar, another difficult week looms for the Catalans, but hopefully just in terms of what lies ahead on the pitch.
It starts with Tuesday’s trip to Napoli in Leg 1 of the Champions League Round of 16. They also have a road Clásico at the Bernabéu next Sunday, but for now, that’s all we’ll say about the battle could decide La Liga.
On paper, the Napoli game should be all Barcelona, but that won’t keep us from taking a closer look at what I ranked the third-most watchable match-up of the round of 16. The line for Leg 1 at Napoli is Barcelona at +120 to +220 for Napoli. Barcelona is -385 to go through and Napoli is a long shot at +290.
The Catalans are one of the favorites to win the entire tournament (they currently have the fourth-best futures odds at +700), while Napoli has the third-longest odds at +9,000. We’re talking about a Napoli team that is in ninth place in Serie A, a mile – or 24 points, to be exact – behind league leader Juventus. So why do I consider this one of the most intriguing clashes of the round of 16?
Can Barcelona be trusted?
Let’s start with Quique Setién’s team, which remains extremely impressive at Camp Nou. Last weekend’s 2-1 win over Getafe was the latest example of how tough this team is at home. But in this tournament, as Barcelona knows better than anyone after the last couple years, strong play at home isn’t enough if you’re vulnerable on the road.
And Barcelona’s four La Liga losses on the road – to Valencia (January 25), Levante (November 2), Granada (September 21) and Athletic Bilbao (August 16) – show that they’re just not the same away from home. They also recently lost away to Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey and to Atleti in Saudi Arabia in the Supercopa.
I don’t expect another loss against Napoli, but the road woes are concerning. The good news is that Setién’s team is coming off a solid win over a third-place Getafe club that just bullied the hell out of Ajax in the Europa League to show how legit they are.
Barcelona appears to be much more comfortable with their new manager now than they did a month ago, and has gotten three straight La Liga wins without a goal from Lionel Messi. Expect the Argentine to find the back of the net for the first time since the January 30 win over Leganés in the Copa del Rey, and for his team to win.
The “case” for Napoli
Umm … did you see them beat Liverpool back on September 17, or draw the EPL champs (we can go ahead and call them that) on November 27? Otherwise, I’m having a hard time coming up with impressive accomplishments of theirs to highlight, unless you count firing your coach hours after advancing from UCL group play – not sure that was “impressive,” per se, but it definitely got my attention.
As for Napoli’s play domestically, where we have a much bigger sample size to go on, is there good reason to believe they’re better than the standings indicate? Based on goals scored (37 in 24 games), allowed (34 in 24 games) and differential (plus-3), not so much.
How about their performances against Serie A’s best? This is where things get somewhat interesting. They did split two games with first-place Juve. They lost, however, to third-place Inter 3-1 on January 6. And they were shut out 1-0 by second-place Lazio on January 11.
So other than the strong performances vs. Liverpool, there’s little reason to expect them to beat Barcelona in either leg.