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Barcelona vs Napoli: All you need to know about Barça’s Italian opponents

Barcelona head coach Quique Setién (L) and Napoli manager Genaro Gattuso (R)/ Photo montage by Blaugranagram

FC Barcelona welcome Italian giants Napoli to the Camp Nou on Saturday at 21:00 CEST, with a place in the Champions League quarter-finals at stake.

Antoine Griezmann’s second-half strike earned the Catalan giants a hard-fought 1-1 draw against the well-drilled Serie A giants in the first leg which was played on February 25, almost half a year ago.

So, as Barça look to continue their journey on the road to the final in Lisbon, Portugal, we give you the lowdown of all you need to know about the away side…

Where are Napoli from?

NAPLES, ITALY – NOVEMBER 2008: An aerial image of Stadio San Paolo, Naples (Photo by Blom UK via Getty Images)

Located in south-west Italy, Naples is the third-largest city in the country and is home to the famous artist Michelangelo Caravaggio. The city’s famous sights include the nearby Roman ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii. Naples was an important part of Magna Graecia, which played a major role in the merging of Greek and Roman society. But, let’s not forget, Naples is also famous for founding the pizza margherita.

History of the club…

Football, UEFA Cup Final, Second Leg, Naples, Italy, 17th May 1989, Napoli 2 v VfB Stuttgart 1 (Napoli win 5-4 on aggregate), Napoli captain Diego Maradona celebrates with supporters at the end of the match (Photo by Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images)

Officially established in 1926, the club was first founded by English mariners in 1905. Their first Serie A triumph came in 1987 and another would follow three years later. The club are inspired by Diego Maradona who joined them from FC Barcelona in 1984.

Napoli’s blue shirts are a symbol of the sea, and they are also known as ‘the donkeys’ which translates to I Ciucci in Italian. This due to the club’s poor form in 1920 and the nickname has been ever-present since then.

Despite a rapid decline which saw the famous Gli Azzurri relegated as low as Serie C due to bankruptcy, they quickly worked their way back up, with film producer and current owner Aurelio De Laurentiis refounding the club. A decade later, and they were back in the big time, and to this day Napoli continue to be a dominant force amongst Europe’s elite and are regular contenders in the Champions League.

Who are the players to watch out for?

NAPLES, ITALY – JUNE 28: Jose Maria Callejon of Napoli, Fabian Ruiz of Napoli, Nikola Maksimovic of Napoli, Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli, Dries Mertens of Napoli, Eljif Elmas of Napoli and Lorenzo Insigne of Napoli Celebrate after scoring his team’s first goal during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and SPAL at Stadio San Paolo on June 28, 2020, in Naples, Italy. (Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

The team are well organised and have a lot of experienced internationals in their ranks.

Dries Mertens has netted 16 goals this campaign and is certainly a threat. The Belgium international netted in the 1-1 draw, back in February, and despite being 33-years-old, he has a lot still to offer.

NAPLES, ITALY – JUNE 13: Dries Mertens of SSC Napoli celebrates after scoring the 1-1 goal during the Coppa Italia Semi-Final Second Leg match between SSC Napoli and FC Internazionale at Stadio San Paolo on June 13, 2020 in Naples, Italy. (Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images)

Arkadiusz Milik, the Poland international is their top goalscorer having netted 23 in all competitions. The 26-year-old will certainly be eyeing a goal and will look to play his part in the act and help his side to the quarter-finals.

GENOA, ITALY – FEBRUARY 03: Arkadiusz Milik of Napoli celebrates after scoring the first goal during the Serie A match between UC Sampdoria and SSC Napoli at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on February 3, 2020 in Genoa, Italy. (Photo by Paolo Rattini/Getty Images)

Another to keep a close eye on is Piotr Zieliński. Having made 43 appearances across the campaign, he is Napoli’s key cog in the middle of midfield and is crucial to unlocking opposing defences.

Spain international Fabián Ruiz will be returning to his homeland as he looks to knock out Quique Setién’s side. The 24-year-old having made a total of 41 appearances, is a vital member of the engine room, and has previously been linked with a move to the Catalan giants.

Kalidou Koulibaly, the cast iron defensive masterclass at the heart of the backline is at the forefront of Gattuso’s project. The Senegalese powerhouse, 29, continues to be heavily linked with a move to both Manchester clubs but will be solely focussed on the match as he looks to prove his worth in trying to stop the likes of Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez.

Kalidou Koulibaly of SSC Napoli during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and US Sassuolo at Stadio San Paolo Naples Italy on 25 July 2020. (Photo by Franco Romano/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Who is the tactician on the touchline?

Former AC Milan midfielder Gennaro Gattuso is currently in the hot seat at the Stadio San Paulo, having replaced Carlo Ancelotti, who is now at Premier League side Everton.

Gattuso, who was part of Italy’s World Cup-winning squad of 2006, has previously coached the likes of Sion, Palermo, OFI Crete, and Pisa. The 42-year-old also formed part of the Milan coaching staff in 2017, before taking up his current post.

Napoli’s form and previous encounters between both sides

In the last nine seasons, Napoli have at least finished in the top five in the Serie A standings. This campaign has seen Gattusso’s side finish in seventh place in the table, far below what is expected of a team which competes regularly in Europe’s elite competition. They did have a spell during the campaign where they picked up just one win a 12 games.

Napoli, did, however, reach the Coppa Italia final but were defeated by league champions Juventus on penalties.

Before the last competitive fixture between both sides back in February, which ended 1-1 in the first leg of the tie, the teams have locked horns on six separate occasions. All have come in friendlies, in the Liga-Serie A Cup and the Joan Gamper Trophy. The first was in 1978 at the Stadio San Paolo in a 1-1 draw and the most recently in 2011 with FC Barcelona cruising to a 5-0 victory at the Camp Nou.

Authors prediction: FC Barcelona 2-1 Napoli