Barcelona will be looking to secure an advantage when they welcome Napoli to Camp Nou on Thursday evening for the first leg of their knockout round playoff clash in the Europa League.
The Catalan giants dropped into this competition after finishing third in their Champions League group, while Napoli finished second in their Europa League section behind Spartak Moscow.
Thursday’s contest will be Barcelona’s first-ever clash in the Europa League, having failed to progress to the knockout round of the Champions League for the first time in 17 years, finishing third in Group E behind Bayern Munich and Benfica, losing three of their six games in the process.
Barcelona, who lost to Paris Saint-Germain in last season’s Champions League round of 16, last played in the UEFA Cup back in 2003-04, reaching the fourth round of the competition before losing to Celtic.
The La Liga outfit has also worryingly lost three of their last five European home fixtures, but they are unbeaten in their last eight UEFA Cup matches at Camp Nou, recording five wins in the process.
Barcelona last locked horns with Napoli in the last-16 stage of the Champions League back in 2020, running out 4-2 winners on aggregate, drawing 1-1 in Italy before winning the reverse match 3-1 at Camp Nou.
Napoli booked their spot in the knockout round of this season’s competition by finishing second in Group C, picking up 10 points from their six matches against Spartak Moscow, Leicester City and Legia Warsaw.
Luciano Spalletti‘s side will enter this contest off the back of a 1-1 draw with Inter Milan in Serie A on Saturday, which has left them in third position in the table, just two points behind leaders AC Milan, so they are very much in a title race this season.
Gli Azzurri have won six, drawn six and lost eight of their previous 20 matches against Spanish clubs in UEFA competition, while they have lost on seven of their 10 visits to Spain, including a 3-1 defeat when they travelled to Barcelona in the last-16 stage of the 2019-20 Champions League.
Barcelona form (all competitions):
Napoli Europa League form:
Napoli form (all competitions):
Barcelona will be without the services of Samuel Umtiti, Ansu Fati, Sergi Roberto and Alejandro Balde through injury, while Clement Lenglet and Memphis Depay remain fitness doubts.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is pushing to make his full debut for the Catalan giants and could start at center-forward with support from Adama Traore and Gavi.
Ousmane Dembele is also pushing to be involved from the start, with head coach Xavi insisting that the France international will be an important player in the final months of the season.
As for Napoli, Matteo Politano and Hirving Lozano are both injured, while on-loan Manchester United defender Axel Tuanzebe has not been included in the Europa League squad.
Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa is expected to feature in the starting XI, having come off the bench against Inter at the weekend, while Eljif Elmas should replace Politano following his injury last time out.
Barcelona possible starting lineup:
Ter Stegen: Dest, Pique, Garcia, Alba; F de Jong, Busquets, Pedri; Traore, Aubameyang, Gavi
Napoli possible starting lineup:
Ospina; Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Koulibaly, Mario Rui; Anguissa, Ruiz; Elmas, Zielinski, Insigne; Osimhen