Barcelona decide their fate in Europe this season when they travel to Naples on Thursday for the Europa League Playoffs second leg against Napoli at the Diego Maradona Stadium.
After last week’s highly entertaining 1-1 draw the tie is wide open ahead of the return match. The away goals rule no longer exists in European competition so any draw will take us to extra-time and maybe penalties, and the winner will advance to the Round of 16.
Barça played very well at Camp Nou last week but couldn’t finish their chances, but will be encouraged by the level of performance and ruthlessness showed away to Valencia this weekend. Let’s see how Barça could line up for Thursday’s big game.
With Dani Alves unavailable for the Europa League and Sergiño Dest doing very little to impress in his place over the last couple of games, the right-back spot is a real question for Thursday. Will Xavi give Dest another chance or will he go with Óscar Mingueza, who played well at right-back against Napoli last week and had a nice cameo off the bench at Valencia?
It would be far from shocking to see Dest dropped again, with Xavi hoping for Mingueza’s defensive presence to add some balance to the team when they have the ball. But right-back is the only question about the backline: with Eric García having a small relapse of his injury and Clément Lenglet back in training but not ready to start yet, Gerard Piqué and Ronald Araujo will play in the middle with Jordi Alba once again at left-back.
Barça’s midfield was a real strength against both Napoli and Valencia despite two different combinations from Xavi, which shows just how deep that area of the squad is right now. Sergio Busquets had a very good game against Valencia and after being rested last Thursday will and should keep his place for this one.
Pedri was sensational off the bench on Sunday and walks right back into the starting XI for this one, and Frenkie De Jong also cannot be dropped at the moment. That seems to be the current go-to midfield trio for games of this caliber in Xavi’s mind, but it’s also hard to leave out Gavi. Perhaps Xavi decides to revisit Gavi on the left wing, hoping for more control of possession and more spaces for Alba to attack on that flank.
If Xavi does indeed go with four midfielders, that would leave two spots open for the attackers. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (kinda) scored a hat-trick on Sunday and obviously stays in the team, and he’s quickly becoming about as perfect a fit in his position as Barça could have hoped for when they signed him.
The right wing was occupied very well by Ousmane Dembélé on Sunday, but that spot belongs to Adama Traoré (and his muscles) until his performances dictate otherwise. Ferran Torres has played a whole lot of football recently and showed signs of exhaustion on Sunday, so it would be wise to have him as a second-half weapon in this one.
Possible XI: Ter Stegen; Mingueza, Piqué, Araujo, Alba; Pedri, Busquets, F. De Jong; Adama, Aubameyang, Gavi (4-3-3)
How do YOU think Barcelona should line up against Napoli? Let us know your thoughts, predictions and teams in the comments below!