This week sees the return of the Champions League after a lengthy hiatus. Barcelona restart their campaign with a visit from a Napoli team who, despite winning their first trophy in six years in June, have struggled to find any real consistency this season.
Barcelona endured a difficult league campaign themselves this year. Despite leading La Liga before the break, they capitulated upon a return to football and were unable to secure a third successive title, as they finished five points behind rivals Real Madrid.
They will seek redemption for their league failings by lifting their fifth UEFA Champions League trophy.
Unsurprisingly a team that features Lionel Messi scores a lot of goals.
While in recent years Napoli have maintained a solid defensive record, spearheaded by Kalidou Koulibaly, cracks have shown this year as they have conceded their most amount of goals in a Serie A season for five years. With Barca claiming an away goal in Naples, Napoli will have to be weary of the ever-present goal threat that Messi and Luis Suarez give La Blaugrana.
Barca have been shaky at the back this year conceding 38 times in the league – that’s more eighth-placed Getafe conceded. This isn’t the terrifying Barca team of old, and plenty of teams have enjoyed success against them this season.
They were recently beaten at home by mid-table Osasuna and have lost a total of six times in La Liga this season. Despite being 35 games unbeaten in Europe at the Nou Camp, with the attacking options Napoli are blessed with, Gennaro Gattuso’s men will be confident of causing an upset.
Barcelona’s form post lockdown will certainly be a concern for Quique Setién. They were firm favourites to wrap up another title for a significant portion of the season but struggled upon the restart and handed the league to their rivals. With growing concerns about the future of the club and the players, it might be the perfect time for this Napoli side to visit the Nou Camp.
Lionel Messi – who else?
While his goal tally has dropped slightly this season, he has still been a creative behemoth breaking the 20 mark in both goals and assists in La Liga.
It’s concerning to think where this side would be without Messi and with rumours continuing to circulate about the Argentine’s future, Barca fans will be worried this may be his last season for the club.
This game may genuinely be defined by Lionel Messi. With such reliance on his creativity for goals in this Barca team, Napoli’s first task will be to stifle his threat. If they can successfully manage that then they may stand a chance in the tie.
Stopping the brilliance of Lionel Messi is of course no mean feat, many teams have tried and many teams have failed. With Napoli’s defence being far from impenetrable, coupled with the need for them to score an away goal, it may be too difficult for them to prevent the Lionel Messi show continuing.
While Barca should progress into the quarter finals, tougher tasks wait ahead – notably Bayern Munich, who have won 25 of their last 26 games.
Far from their best and over-reliant on Messi, don’t expect them to lift the trophy this season.
Prediction: Quarter finalists.