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Europa League

Napoli, the worst possible rival Barcelona could have drawn in the Europa League Last 16

Xavi's Barça didn't have much luck in Friday's draw. Under Spalletti, Napoli started the season well but have faded in recent weeks. Osimhen is the dangerman.

Napoli, the worst possible rival Barcelona could have drawn in the Europa League Last 16

Barcelona couldn't have picked a tougher rival in this afternoon's Europa League Round of 16 draw. Napoli are a side which you would normally associate with the Champions League - they have been in a slump for the past month but nevertheless are a highly dangerous rival. They topped the Serie A table until quite recently, after winning 10 of the opening 11 games. That run has come to an end and Napoli's recent form is currently being questioned, they have lost their defensive composure and have temporarily been without star player Victor Osimhen who is nursing a fractured cheekbone but die back soon. They suffered a 0-1 home defeat to Empoli at the weekend and were up to their necks in the Europa League until the final group game, booking their place in the knockout round after beating Leicester.

Napoli have changed a lot this season. Under Spalletti, the team's tactics have been based around a dynamic, attacking style, keeping their structure when they are not in possession and defending as a unit. They usually play a 4-2-3-1 or similar variants  such as a 4-3-3  or 4-4-1-1. They enjoyed a great start to the season, looking highly organised with penetration. If they can recover that form, they will pose a real problem for Xavi's Barcelona. Napoli have years of experience playing in Europe and a squad packed with great players.

Napoli's key men

Before suffering a facial injury, Osimhen was in superb form.  The Nigerian forward is expected to return for Sunday's game at AC Milan. If he is ruled out, Mertens will be used as a false No.9. Politano, Insigne and Lozano complete an attack which has scored 34 goals in the league, averaging two goals per game. Fabián is another key member of the side - both in terms of developing moves and arriving from deeper positions to support or finish them off. The Spain international is enjoying a productive season. Zielinski is of a similar mould. At the back, there is the dependable Koulibaly in central defence. It's strange that he hasn't been tempted by any of the offers he has received from other clubs around Europe. He is usually accompanied by Rrahmani, and flanked by Di Lorenzo and Mario Rui in the back four. Ospina is a somewhat erratic goalkeeper, but capable of putting in solid performances. Napoli are a decent side and Barça have been pitted against a side they know only too well - if only for Kostas Manolas, with him their decline all began...


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