Napoli v Barcelona: Gerard Pique says Spanish side’s focus is not on off-field issues

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February 25, 2020
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    Pique and Messi

    Gerard Pique’s Barcelona beat Eibar 5-0 on Saturday, with Lionel Messi scoring four

    • Line-ups

    Line-ups

    Napoli

    • 25Ospina
    • 22Di Lorenzo
    • 44Manolas
    • 19Maksimovic
    • 6Mário Rui
    • 8Ruiz
    • 4Demme
    • 20Zielinski
    • 7Callejón
    • 14Mertens
    • 24Insigne

    Substitutes

    • 1Meret
    • 5Marques Loureiro
    • 12Elmas
    • 13Luperto
    • 21Politano
    • 23Hysaj
    • 99Milik

    Barcelona

    • 1ter Stegen
    • 2Nélson Semedo
    • 3Piqué
    • 23Umtiti
    • 24Firpo
    • 5Busquets
    • 4Rakitic
    • 21de Jong
    • 22Vidal
    • 17Griezmann
    • 10Messi

    Substitutes

    • 8Arthur
    • 13Murara Neto
    • 15Lenglet
    • 28Puig
    • 31Fati
    • 33Araújo
    • 39Akieme

    Referee:Dr. Felix Brych

    Barcelona defender Gerard Pique has said off-field issues will not distract the team in Tuesday’s Champions League last-16 first leg.

    Barca fans protested against club president Josep Maria Bartomeu during Saturday’s 5-0 victory over Eibar after the club were accused of manipulating social media coverage of the team.

    “We know the waters will not be calm if the results are not good,” said Pique.

    “This match is too important to be thinking about other things.”

    The Spanish centre-back added: “We will concentrate on what we control, which is what happens on the pitch,”

    Pique was also asked about an interview given by Lionel Messi in which the Argentine forward said the team were not good enough to win the Champions League.

    “In other years, we have reached this stage as favourites and haven’t won,” said Pique. “Maybe we aren’t favourites this time but as we are Barcelona we always have possibilities.”

    Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly and Fernando Llorente will both miss the tie.

    Centre-back Koulibaly has returned to training after a muscle injury, while forward Llorente is ill. Defender Kevin Malcuit is a long-term absentee with cruciate ligament damage.

    Striker Luis Suarez is one of five absentees for Barcelona, with Ousmane Dembele, Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto also injured.

    New forward signing Martin Braithwaite is not registered to play in the competition.

    Messi or Maradona the greatest?

    Napoli manager Gennaro Gattuso described Barcelona forward Messi as “the greatest” before the game – and compared him to club legend Diego Maradona.

    “He does things that only exist on the PlayStation, unthinkable things,” said the former Italy international. “I know the champion [Maradona] was… Today I see Messi doing things that Maradona was doing.”

    Napoli striker Lorenzo Insigne was rather more circumspect about the comparisons with Maradona, who inspired the Italian side to the Serie A title in 1990.

    “Messi is the best in the world today,” said Insigne. “But for us Neapolitans, Maradona is everything and I don’t want to compare them. Maradona is sacred.”

    Napoli have returned to form in recent weeks following a disappointing start to the season that led to the sacking of Carlo Ancelotti and have won their last three games, with Gattuso in a bullish mood ahead of Tuesday’s match.

    “I want to see a team that knows how to battle,” he said. “You need to stand up to Barcelona.

    “I want to see a lively team that plays with joy until the end. Can Napoli win the Champions League? Never say never.”

    MATCH FACTS

    Head-to-head

    • This will be the first competitive match between the two sides.
    • Both managers, Gattuso and Quique Setien, will be taking charge of their first Champions League game.

    Napoli

    • Napoli have reached the Champions League knockout stage for the third time in six appearances. They have never made it past the last 16.
    • Napoli were eliminated in their two previous European Cup/Champions League two-legged ties with Spanish opposition, both times against Real Madrid
    • Napoli have only failed to score once in 20 Champions League games at their San Paolo stadium, a goalless draw against Dynamo Kiev in November 2016.
    • Games involving Napoli produced five penalties in this season’s Champions League group stage, the joint-most alongside Atalanta (3 for, 2 against).
    • Dries Mertens has been directly involved in 50% of Napoli’s goals in the Champions League since 2016/17, scoring 15 and assisting a further six (21 out of 42).

    Barcelona

    • Barcelona’s last away win against Italian opposition in the Champions League knockout stages came in April 2006, when they beat AC Milan 1-0. Gennaro Gattuso was in the Milan team.
    • Barcelona have progressed past the Champions League round of 16 in each of the last 12 seasons, the longest run in the history of the tournament.
    • Barcelona have won only one of their last eight away games in the Champions League knockout phase (D2 L5), a 1-0 victory against Manchester Utd in April 2019.
    • In those eight games, they have scored only two goals and conceded 17.
    • Messi’s total of two goals in five games in this season’s Champions League group phase was his lowest for 10 years.

    Source

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    February 25, 2020
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