FC Barcelona drew Napoli in the UEFA Champions League’s first knockout round. The Italian side boast a very talented squad that has stumbled out of the gates in Serie A and struggled to return to the form that made them Italy’s second-best side for years.
The Italians sacked their manager, Carlo Ancelotti, because of this poor start. His replacement is Gennaro Gattuso, a former AC Milan player who won the FIFA World Cup with Italy in 2006. Since then, he is best known for a stint coaching Milan, to mixed reviews.
Gattuso was known as tough midfield enforcer in his playing days, and the hope goes that he will be the one to instill discipline into this team and get them back to winning ways.
It has not happened yet, with Parma defeating Napoli 2-1 last weekend thanks to a 93rd minute goal by Gervinho. Gli Azzurri, as they are nicknamed, have only one win in the past 11 matches.
In attack, the team has most of the old names still around like José Callejón, Arkadiusz Milik, Lorenzo Insigne, and Dries Mertens, and now you can add Hirving Lozano and Fernando Llorente to the mix.
Fabián Ruiz, Piotr Zieliński, and Allan are some of the most used midfielders with Jorginho now gone. In defense, they have one of the world’s most respected defenders in Kalidou Koulibaly, and they have recently signed Kostas Manolas, who famously scored a goal to knock out Barcelona with Roma.
This is a team with a lot of talent, but will they be well-drilled and back to winning ways in time to knock out Barcelona?
Napoli have finished runners-up to Juventus for many years in Serie A, but the current team looks some distance off that standard. Still, perhaps there is a sleeping giant there. In a two-match tie, anything can happen, and Ernesto Valverde would be foolish to underestimate them.