FC Barcelona vs SSC Napoli
Competition/Round: 2021-22 Europa League Playoffs, Leg 1
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Ansu Fati, Dani Alves, Ronald Araujo, Clément Lenglet, Samuel Umtiti, Sergi Roberto, Alejandro Balde (out), Memphis Depay (doubt)
Napoli Outs & Doubts: Hirving Lozano, Matteo Politano, Stanislav Lobotka (out)
Date/Time: Thursday, February 17, 2022, 6.45pm CET/WAT (Barcelona & Nigeria), 5.45pm GMT (UK), 12.45pm ET, 9.45am PT (USA), 11.15pm IST (India)
Venue: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
Referee: István Kovács (ROU)
VAR: Bastian Dankert (GER)
How to watch on TV: TUDN (USA), BT Sport ESPN (UK), SuperSport (Nigeria), SONY TEN 2 (India), Movistar Liga de Campeones (Spain), others
How to watch online: Paramount+ (USA), BT Sport Live (UK), Movistar+ (Spain), others
Following a hard-fought draw in the local derby against Espanyol at the weekend, Barcelona return to action to begin their first Europa League journey in 18 years as they welcome Napoli for the first leg of their Playoff tie at the Greatest Stadium on Earth.
The new format of the Europa League has created some exciting matchups for this round, and eight teams will quality from the Playoffs to join the eight group winners in the Round of 16. The away goals rule has been eliminated from European competition, and with both of these teams loving to attack we could be in for a treat.
Barça have dropped down into the Europa League after finishing third in their Champions League group, but they’re no longer the absolute mess they appeared to be last December. Xavi has stabilized the dressing room and slowly but surely improved the team, both tactically and mentally. There are still slip-ups like we saw against Espanyol, but the fighting spirit and the individual performances of the players are at a much better place after Xavi’s first 100 days in charge.
Qualifying for next season’s Champions League is the only goal for the rest of this campaign, one that can be achieved by winning the Europa League. But Barça got the absolute worst possible draw for this stage: Napoli have been brilliant all season, with coach Luciano Spalletti making a real impact on a squad that desperately needed a jolt of energy after a couple of bad seasons.
Napoli are firmly in the Serie A title race with a beautiful brand of football that combines a good defense with a free-flowing, fast attack that can beat you in every possible way: long passing sequences, quick counter-attacks, set pieces, long distance shooting. They are very good at everything and they got healthy just in time to face Barça, with the likes of Zambo Anguissa, Lorenzo Insigne and Victor Osimhen all available after long spells on the sideline.
Do not be surprised if Napoli beat Barça both at Camp Nou and in Naples. Even with the Blaugrana’s improvement over the last two months, the Italians have been the better team all season and are healthy and full of confidence. Barça on the other hand might not take this competition as seriously with such a tight race for the Top 4 in La Liga, but they will still look to play their best game and test themselves against one of Europe’s best teams.
This should be a very good game. If you’re a neutral, grab a drink and some snacks and get ready to have some fun. If you’re a Barça fan, maybe prepare for the worst. They are REALLY good.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Dest, Piqué, Eric, Alba; Pedri, Busquets, F. De Jong; Adama, Ferran, Gavi
Napoli (4-2-3-1): Meret; Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Koulibaly, Rui; Anguissa, Fabián; Elmas, Zielinski, Insigne; Osimhen
Napoli are quite simply a GREAT team, and I expect a very open game that will leave everything to be decided in Naples next week: 2-2 draw.