FC Barcelona take on SSC Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo in their Round of 16 tie of the Champions League. The two clubs have a lot in common in the way their season has unfolded so far inconsistent, dropping far more points that they should and changing managers midway through the season. Both their recent form would suggest otherwise but all these make up the ingredients for a great clash between two giants of the European football.
Barcelona are on the top of the table thanks to Lionel Messi and Marc-Andre ter Stegen heroics and most importantly because of their arch rival, Real Madrid’s very own irregularity. Under Quique Setien the Blaugrana have returned to their famed possession based football and will be hoping that his first European assignment with his new club will end in a big win.
On the other hand Napoli are nine points off the top 4 but are enjoying a good run of form having won six of their last seven matches while securing thumping wins over title contenders Juventus, Lazio and Inter Milan on the way. Arkadiusz Milik, Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne lead the squad for the most goal contribution this season while the likes of Fabian Ruiz and Piotr Zielinski pull the strings in the midfield impressively in what has been an underwhelming campaign.
So here we present our combined XI for this exciting clash.
1. Goalkeeper : Marc-Andre ter Stegen
The German has developed into one of the finest goalkeepers of our generation since the day Barca decided to part ways with Claudio Bravo. With the rest of the team underperforming bar Messi, Ter Stegen’s importance in the squad has only grown leaps and bounds.
Having kept Barca out of trouble on numerous occasions and helping them reclaim the top spot in league over the weekend at the expense of Los Blancos, having Ter Stegen between the sticks in our starting XI was a no brainer.
2. Left-Back : Junior Firpo
Topsy-turvy perfectly sums up the young Spaniard’s time at the Catalan capital. Firpo has been in and out of the team and his move was being labelled as a flop until a certain Quique Setien, a former coach of Firpo came in through the front doors of FC Barcelona.
With confidence back and injuries to first choice left back Jordi Alba, Firpo has grown in stature and if his recent form is anything to go by he is sure to make a telling impact down the left- flank in this encounter for the Blaugrana.
3. Center-Back : Clement Lenglet
Joining Firpo in the back line is his team mate Clement Lenglet. The Frenchman has put in consistent performances at the back for Barcelona in a season in which the Catalan club’s defending has come under a lot of criticism.
Lenglet has also added an attacking flair to his game having scored three goals and assisted once while scoring the winner in a crazy match against Real Betis this month. With him being the usual target whenever Barca get a set piece, Lenglet has added a different dimension to Barca’s game.
4. Center-Back : Kalidou Koulibaly
Napoli’s vice-captain Koulibaly has had a under whelming campaign thus far by his standards. The Senegalese international’s performances has been one of the few bright light for Napoli this season who have the worst defensive record of among the teams in top 6 and the second worst in the top half of the table in Serie A.
Having put in 3.7 tackles and interceptions per game this season along with 3.5 clearances per game, Kouliably will be key to Napoli in this encounter.
5. Right-Back : Giovanni Di Lorenzo
The 26-year-old Italian has been the mainstay in Napoli’s defense this season. Overcoming the competition from fellow right-backs Elseid Hysaj and Kevin Malcuit, Di Lorenzo has put in impressive shifts in tough matches and has also featured in all of Napoli’s Champions League matches this season.
A reliable performer, this was an easy choice considering Sergi Roberto is injured for this clash and Nelson Semedo has been unable to cement his place in the starting XI for Barca this season.
6. Defensive Midfielder : Sergio Busquets
The best defensive midfielder in the world and the most important player in Quique Setien’s system, Sergio Busquets has regained his mojo this season after a couple of underwhelming seasons under Ernesto Valverde. The Spaniard is the glue that keeps the midfield and the defense together and helps other creative players Messi to excel. An easy choice.
7. Central Midfielder : Fabian Ruiz
The last Spaniard in our XI is Napoli’s Fabian Ruiz, the midfielder will be up against former coach in Quique Setien who coached him at Real Betis before Ruiz moved to Napoli. Technically gifted with ability to control the pace of the game while also scoring important match winning goals, Ruiz is one of the best midfielders in Italy right now and one of the best Spanish midfielders.
With form on his side, Ruiz is sure to give his former coach a headache and cause Barcelona’s midfielders a lot of problems.
8. Central Midfielder : Frenkie de Jong
The golden boy of Barcelona, De Jong has played some excellent football considering he has had to adapt to a new style of play and also had to undergo manager changes in his very first season.
Under the current manager the Dutchman has become more of a box to box midfielder unlike the role of holding midfielder he played at Ajax, this change has brought out the attacking talent of the youngster as he has contributed to four goals this season. Providing energy to an aging Barcelona side, De Jong’s performances can prove to be game changing.
9. Left-Winger : Antoine Griezmann
The Catalan's costliest buy of the summer, Antoine Griezmann has had a rough start to his life at Barcelona. These struggles have not stopped the Frenchman from doing what he does the best that is contribute to the score sheet.
This season he has been involved in 13 goals in all competitions and has also developed a knack of scoring the opening goals and giving his side a lead. Expect him to open the scoring for the travelling Blaugrana and ease their nerves.
10. Right-Winger : Lionel Messi
Undoubtedly the best player to ever step on the football pitch, his name needs no introduction and his inclusion needs no reasoning. The Argentine ended a mini goal scoring drought in the last game by scoring four goals. It would be an understatement to say that Messi is in form as he is rarely never in form and is the most potent weapon Barcelona has.
Over the years Barcelona’s performance against an opposition has co-incided with that of Messi’s, underlying how over dependent the Catalan outfit are on the Argentina international.
11. Striker : Dries Mertens
The second highest goalscorer in the Napoli’s history and their most prolific player this season, Dries Mertens has helped an under firing Napoli side to progress through to the Round of 16. The Belgian has scored five goals and assisted one in six group stage games and also scored in both the matches against Premier League leaders and UCL’s defending champions Liverpool.
If he gets his eye set in the game, the Catalan defenders will have a tough time containing him.