The UCL continues to provide hard to predict results but Spanish giants Barcelona should be confident with their first-leg draw away from home. Read our finest Soccer predictions and picks for the Round of 16, leg 2 preview for the UEFA Champions League.
Barcelona vs. Napoli
Round of 16*Leg 2 of 2
03:00 pm EST / 08:00 pm GMT
Wednesday, February 18th at the Nou Camp
THE FIRST LEG
Napoli’s Dries Mertens ruffled some feathers in Italy during the first leg giving the Italian side some hope early on. A 20-yard whistler put Mertens as the joint highest scorer of all time for Napoli. Unfortunately for him and his team, celebrations came to end after Antoine Griezmann fired it into the back of the net in the second half, finding the equaliser for his side.
After an evenly matched and somewhat lacklustre game of football, Barcelona ended the game with 10 men on the pitch. Some foul play in the 89th minute put Arturo Vidal into the locker room. A stupid mistake so close to the final whistle now haunts him; a match ban will prevent him from playing the home fixture. This wasn’t Barca’s first hit either, Sergio Busquets picked up a third card which has resulted in a player suspension, adding to Barcelona’s problems.
Barcelona will be hoping to find their stride at home, as in the first leg Napoli had the best opportunity to walk away victorious, and if it wasn’t for Marc-Andre Ter Stegen in goal for Barca they would have suffered defeat.
It’s not the first rodeo for Barca, they’ve been European champions on five occasions and are keen to relive past glory. The heart-breaking exit to Liverpool in last year’s Champions League semi-final still lingers with a bad taste in the mouths of those behind Barca. Oddly, Barcelona captain Lionel Messi hasn’t been so optimistic and has expressed his concerns for Barca’s hopes and dreams of ECL glory this season;
“The way we are at the moment, I don’t think it’s enough to win the Champions League.” He told the BBC.
It’s hard to argue with Messi if you watch the first 45 minutes in Naples. The opening half for Barcelona was dreadful; they looked light-years behind a team who had any hope of lifting the trophy this year. Without a single shot on target in the first half, I was surprised they managed to find the back of the net in the second.
Although having 67% of the game's possession, Barcelona managed an embarrassing two shots on target. The confidence for both teams must be high given their respective achievements in the first game and for Barca the Nou Camp advantage.
Not to be messed with at the Nou Camp
The game certainly isn’t a mismatch as it may have been a few years back and although it’s a tough game the experts still support Barcelona.
The trip for Spain is going to be a long one heading into the second leg. Not only is the country of Italy suffering from the worst case of the COVID-19, but the Naples squad will also have to suffer problematic travelling schedules during this tough time.
Barcelona should be hesitant to slow their strike-force down in the second leg and Setien should have a counterplan to the solid defence that Napoli put on display in the first leg. Napoli won’t be able to put up a wall of defence for too long as they’ll need to put up goals themselves.
Both sides have reason to walk into the Nou Camp with momentum strong. Napoli could’ve stolen the first leg which should give them hope to head into the Nou Camp. Barcelona did grab an away goal with a terrible outing, knowing they could score away from home with little effort should see a different result under more positive circumstances.
Form, Mentality, Numbers & Trends
▪ Barcelona has qualified from all of their last 19 knockout ties in the Champions League after avoiding defeat away from home in the first leg. ▪ Since winning their first-ever tie in the Champions League knockout stages (3-1 v Chelsea in 2011-12), Napoli hasn’t won any of their last four games outside of the group stage (drawn one, lost three). Notably, three of those coming against Spanish teams. ▪ Barcelona has only won one of their previous nine away games in the Champions League knockout stages. ▪ Managers G.Gattuso and Q.Setien took charge of their first Champions League games in the first leg - it was the first time in Champions League history that managers are facing each other in the knockout stages in their first-ever games in the competition. ▪ Napoli forward D.Mertens has bagged six goals in the Champions League this season; the most by any player for the club in a Champions League or European campaign overall.
The current value is hard to find given the high price on Barcelona and the close-knit game we saw during the first 90 minutes in Naples. I side with the home team in another low scoring affair.
UCL Prediction: Barcelona win & U4.5