Napoli v Barcelona: Xavi's men to progress
Having successfully opposed Barcelona last week at odds-on, Kevin Hatchard thinks they are more attractively priced ahead of the second leg in Naples.
Can Napoli balance Serie A push and UEL dream?
Napoli suffered desperate disappointment on Monday night, as a flat performance saw them held 1-1 at Cagliari. A win would have taken Luciano Spalletti's men top of the table, but they managed just three attempts on target and needed an 87th-minute equaliser from Victor Osimhen.
It means that Napoli have won just three of their Serie A games that have immediately followed an outing in the Europa League, and there are some bad results in there, such as a 1-0 home defeat to Empoli and a 1-1 draw with Verona. If they are to maintain their bid to win the Scudetto, they'll have to balance domestic and continental competitions better.
Napoli scored a fine goal in Barcelona, but they were gradually pinned back, and after a harsh handball penalty was given against them and Ferran Torres levelled, the Partenopei rode their luck a few times before grinding out a draw. They go into this second leg with some patchy home form - they went out of the Coppa Italia after extra time against Fiorentina (they ended up losing 5-2), and they have lost three of their last six Serie A games at the Diego Maradona.
Matteo Politano, Stanislav Lobotka and Hirving Lozano are all expected to miss the game with injury, while there could be a big issue at right-back, with knocks for Kevin Malcuit and Giovanni Di Lorenzo.
Barca lack control, but they are improving
It'll be a long road for Xavi as he bids to restore his beloved Barcelona to the dominant position they enjoyed when he was patrolling the midfield, but there have definitely been steps made in the right direction. The weekend's 4-1 win at Valencia was a fine display of attacking football, and while Barca aren't dictating the direction of matches as much as they'd like to, they are playing with far more confidence and style than they did under Ronaldo Koeman in the season's early months.
Some nifty moves in the transfer market (despite the club's gargantuan debts) haven't done any harm. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored a hat-trick at the Mestalla - the third goal was a Pedri shot that flicked his back on the way in - and has settled well after Arsenal cut him loose. Adama Traore seems to be thoroughly enjoying his return to Catalonia, and former Manchester City forward Ferran Torres scored his Barca first goal at Camp Nou in the first leg against Napoli. It should be pointed out that Torres then had two golden opportunities to win the game, but he squandered both.
Ronald Araujo should return from injury, but Dani Alves isn't part of the Europa League squad. Xavi may have to choose between Traore and Ousmane Dembele on the right flank, after the French international returned to favour after his contract stand-off. Xavi has some nice selection problems in midfield, with Frenkie de Jong, Pedri, Gavi, Nico and Sergio Busquets all potential starters.
Barca can squeeze into last 16
Barca were the better side last week, and although I successfully opposed them at odds-on, it was an uncomfortable watch for the closing stages. That lay was based on price, but these second-leg quotes seem more realistic. Barcelona are unbeaten in their last five games.
We can back Barca Draw No Bet at 1.89, so if the game is drawn, our stake is returned, but an away win gives us a winner. Alternatively, you could back Barcelona to qualify at 1.87, which gives you the chance to win in extra time or on penalties.
Auba to strike?
Although his hat-trick goals was fortunate, Aubameyang looked razor-sharp at the Mestalla, and he's certainly worth considering in the To Score market at 2.5, with Ferran Torres a hefty 3.25.
On the Napoli side of things, star striker Victor Osimhen hasn't actually scored a goal in a home game for Napoli since October, but Lorenzo Insigne has scored in his last two outings at the Maradona - he is 3.4 to find the net inside the 90 minutes.
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