Napoli and Barcelona meet in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on Wednesday evening in a battle of two fallen defending league champions.

The mighty have fallen with both of these teams. At this moment last season, Napoli and Barcelona were well on their way to winning their respective domestic crowns. Both teams have endured disappointing title defences in Serie A and La Liga, respectively.

The Partenopei, for one, have struggled desperately since Luciano Spalletti’s post-Scudetto departure last summer and have already sacked their second manager this season, announcing Walter Mazzarri’s exit just 48 hours before facing their Champions League knockout clash against Barcelona.

Sitting as low as ninth in Serie A, they dropped points again over the weekend as they could only manage a 1-1 draw with Genoa. And Napoli could be in for another difficult evening when they host Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League tie.

While Napoli’s title defence has been a disaster, Barcelona have had their issues this season. And with eight points between themselves and leaders Real Madrid, the Blaugrana already appear to have left themselves with too much work to do in the La Liga title race.

Having said that, they have improved of late since Xavi revealed his decision to step down from his managerial position at the end of the season and secured a last-gasp victory at Celta Vigo. They will now be focusing on putting in a good performance in the Champions League.

The previous European meeting between the two teams took place in the 2021/22 UEFA Europa League and ended in a 4-2 victory for Barcelona. The Hard Tackle looks closer at the encounter ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides.

Team News & Tactics


Pasquale Mazzocchi, Cyril Ngonge, and Hamed Traore have all been named in Napoli’s UEFA squad following the group stage. Francesco Calzona, Luciano Spalletti’s former assistant who took charge of the Slovakia national team in 2022, is set to lead Napoli until the end of the season, alongside his preparations for the European Championships.

The change in the dugout provides an air of unpredictability around Napoli’s possible XI. Victor Osimhen started all seven games as Nigeria lost the Africa Cup of Nations final against Ivory Coast. And after a little rest to recharge, Napoli’s main striker is back in action.

The Nigerian marksman should immediately replace misfiring striker Giovanni Simeone, which is a big boost for the hosts, as goals have really dried up for the Azzurri, scoring just three goals over their last five fixtures in all competitions.

Matteo Politano and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia will complete the attacking triad and will be keen to find some form in front of goal. Ngonge has offered a spark off the bench in recent weeks, and could be set for an appearance from the bench in midweek.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Meret; Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Jesus, Rui; Anguissa, Lobotka, Cajuste; Politano, Osimhen, Kvaratskhelia


Ferran Torres (thigh), Joao Felix (ankle), Sergi Roberto (Achilles), Alejandro Balde (hamstring), Marcos Alonso (back), and long-term absentee Gavi (ACL) will again miss out through injury, while Oriol Romeu remains a doubt due to a knee complaint.

Head coach Xavi is also sweating over the fitness of starters Ronald Araujo and Pedri, both of whom were forced off during the last-gasp victory over Celta Vigo due to respective injury concerns.

With Araujo’s status in question, teenage centre-back Pau Cubarsi is set to make his first Champions League start on the knockout stage alongside Inigo Martinez in front of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Jules Kounde should retain his place at right-back, while Joao Cancelo will serve as an important creative outlet for Xavi down the left flank. Champions League winner Ilkay Gundogan is certain to be recalled after only featuring from the bench on Saturday, meaning a change of personnel in midfield could be in the offing.

Lamine Yamal has been among Barca’s standout performers since the turn of the year. But Raphinha could get the nod in midweek on the left-wing. Robert Lewandowski’s brace last time out propelled the Blaugrana’s leading scorer to a half-century of goals since moving from Bavaria to Catalonia. And the experienced striker will once again spearhead their attack, while Vitor Roque could also make his Champions League debut here.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Kounde, Cubarsi, Martinez, Cancelo; de Jong, Gundogan, Pedri; Raphina, Lewandowski, Roque

Key Stats

  • Barcelona are undefeated in their last six matches against Napoli in all competitions.
  • Barcelona have won four of their last five away games.
  • Napoli have lost six home games this season.
  • The visitors’ have lost two of their last three matches against Italian opponents in the UEFA Champions League.
  • Napoli and Barcelona face off for the third time in five seasons in the UCL knockout stage, with Barca prevailing in the last two.

Player to Watch

Vitor Roque

Embed from Getty Images

Barcelona have brought in 18-year-old Brazilian striker Vitor Roque for a fee that could rise to €61 million. He has enjoyed a bright start to his Barcelona career and is set to make his Champions League debut on Wednesday. With Cancelo marauding forward, the youngster will operate close to Lewandowski, who scored twice at the weekend and has also returned to peak form in front of goal.


Napoli 0-2 Barcelona

This would have been a highly-anticipated match-up if it had taken place last season. However, Napoli and Barcelona have transformed into meeker versions of their league-winning ways this season.

Unfortunately, a low-quality, scruffy game is expected to play out in Naples. The hosts have fallen mighty since Luciano Spalletti left and are a long cry from their flamboyant brilliance in 2022/23. However, Victor Osimhen’s comeback is massive.

Barcelona have somehow strung a few wins together in recent weeks. But their performances have lacked inspiration, which could lead to a dire first-leg draw. However, we predict a 2-0 win for Xavi Hernandez and his charges.

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