Napoli will host Barcelona in a Round 16 Champions League fixture tomorrow in what should be a game full of talent and technical ability. Quique Setien's Barcelona are top of the La Liga table while Gennaro Gattuso's Napoli sit sixth in Serie A. However, it would be unwise to write off a side of Napoli's calibre. Barcelona themselves have not looked entirely convincing against the better sides in Spain either.
Champions League success is a must for Barcelona while Napoli will be hoping to surprise a few as the underdogs in the competition. A good result against the Blaugrana could spark a revival of domestic form as well, so expect Napoli to be up for the battle.
Here are three tactical battles to look out for from this exciting contest.
#1 Kostas Manolas vs Antoine Griezmann
The memory of Kostas Manolas' late winner for Roma will still be fresh on the minds of the Barcelona fans. The Greek centre-back moved to Naples from Rome at the start of the season and will be looking to dish out the same pain to the visitors. Manolas' battle with Antoine Griezmann will be key in keeping Barcelona's attack quiet. Griezmann has had a difficult integration into his new club since his move from Atletico and will be looking to make amends by showing up in the knockout games.
We could see Manolas tightly marking the Frenchman in order to keep him from finding any space. As Napoli's defenders aren't the quickest, it would be foolish to overcommit. So, when Napoli sit back, Manolas will have to keep himself close to the Frenchman. Griezmann can be lethal with the smallest of chances, something that Manolas must remain aware of. Stopping Lionel Messi is a very unrealistic task but keeping Griezmann subdued is possible.
#2 Fabian Ruiz vs Frenkie de Jong
Fabian Ruiz is Napoli's best player. The Spanish midfielder has been a consistent performer in what has been a difficult season for Napoli. Versatile and talented, Ruiz will play as a central midfielder who has the freedom to wander and influence play. He has a knack of occupying pockets of spaces and the vision to find team-mates in openings. Barcelona will have to keep a close eye on Ruiz if they are to keep Napoli from scoring.
On the other hand, the visitors themselves have Frenkie de Jong in their ranks. The Dutchman is similar to Ruiz in age and technical ability and will seek to take control of the midfield himself. If De Jong finds his rhythm, Barcelona can dictate the tempo as they please, which will affect Napoli adversely. The battle between the two talented midfielders could dictate how many chances their respective sides create.
#3 Hirving Lozano vs Sergi Roberto/ Nelson Semedo
Either Sergi Roberto or Nelson Semedo will have the difficult task of dealing with Hirving Lozano. Napoli's Mexican winger has electric pace and is a potent dribbler. Lozano is especially lethal on the counter, utilizing his speed and clinical finishing to take chances with aplomb. Therefore, either Semedo or Roberto will have to be extremely wary of Lozano's positioning and refrain from committing themselves too much.
Barcelona must not underestimate Napoli. If they play to their strengths, they should win, but must be careful about committing themselves too much in attack. Napoli will sit back and try to absorb the pressure while keeping Lozano and Lorenzo Insigne as the primary outlets for the counters. If Barcelona's full-backs are caught high up the pitch, this could prove to be their undoing as Napoli tend to be clinical with their attacking sequences.