Back in February the two teams played an intense match that ended in a 1-1 draw, and Barça can qualify for the Champions League playoffs in Lisbon with either a win or a 0-0 draw. If they can’t and disaster strikes, this could be the final nail in the coffin for manager Quique Setién.
So how will Setién line up his troops for Saturday’s battle? There have been several reports regarding his team selection, and here are the 11 players expected to play against Napoli:
Ter Stegen in goal, Gerard Piqué and Clément Lenglet in the middle, and Jordi Alba at left-back. There are no doubts about those players in the backline, so the only doubt is at right-back. Nélson Semedo became an undisputed starter in the La Liga restart, and he hasn’t disappointed.
But Sergi Roberto always finds a way to start the big matches, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Semedo is on the bench this Saturday. However, with the suspensions in midfield, it would be wise to use Roberto in the middle of the park which makes it likely for Nelsinho to retain his spot.
Sergio Busquets and Arturo Vidal are suspended for the biggest match of Barça’s season, and with Arthur deciding not to participate the only first team players available in midfield are Frenkie De Jong, Ivan Rakitic and Sergi Roberto.
Starting those three seems like the easiest choice, but the rise of Riqui Puig gives Setién a welcome selection headache. Puig has arguably been Barça’s best midfielder over the last month of the season, and his creativity and movement would be crucial against a physical Napoli midfield.
It all comes down to how much trust Setién has in Puig’s ability to rise to the occasion in the biggest match of the season, or if the safest choice of the more experienced Roberto and Rakitic is the best one to make for such an important game.
Antoine Griezmann has made a full recovery from his hamstring injury and is available to start against Napoli alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez. With Martin Braithwaite unavailable for the Champions League and Ousmane Dembélé not being a realistic option to consider, the only player with a chance to keep Griezmann off the team is Ansu Fati, who played much better than Griezmann in the La Liga restart and frankly deserves to start.
But once again, it’s about whether or not Ansu’s lack of experience will prove to be the decisive factor in keeping him on the bench. Griezmann was bought for a lot of money thanks in large part to his ability to decide big games, and it’s safe to assume Setién will be on that and choose him to start.
The big question is: will Messi, Suárez and Griezmann play in a front three or will Messi play in behind the two strikers like we saw against Villarreal? The 4-3-1-2 worked wonderfully once, but it quickly unraveled against more organized defensive structures. The 4-3-3 hasn’t really worked with these three together, so Setién has a big tactical decision to make.
Predicted XI: Ter Stegen; Semedo, Piqué, Lenglet, Alba; Rakitic, De Jong, Roberto; Messi, Suárez, Griezmann (4-3-3)
How about you, Barça fans? What would be your team for Napoli? Feel free to share your predictions in the comments below!