Can Napoli knock Barcelona out of the Champions League?

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With the Champions League competition set to resumes again shortly, Italy’s SSC Napoli will face Spain’s FC Barcelona in the second leg of their last sixteen match on the 14th August. The first leg ended in a 1-1 draw at the San Paolo Stadium.

Napoli’s Dries Mertens scored for the Italian side, equaling a club record of 121 goals before being taken off injured, after which Barca asserted themselves and drew level with a superb strike from Antoine Griezmann.

It leaves Napoli with the unenviable task of facing the Spanish giants at their Camp Nou stadium in the second leg. However, Napoli’s 28-year-old German midfielder, Diego Demme, who joined the Italian side in the January transfer window, remains optimistic.

Demme said that in the first leg, Napoli showed that they could play at the same level as Barcelona and that anything is possible. He believes they can challenge the Spaniards in their own backyard and win. However, it won’t be easy, and if they do pull it off, it will be a big upset. But, who knows? Stranger things have happened in the world of football, especially in knockout competitions.

Although Napoli hasn’t had the best of seasons in Seri A (they are currently in sixth position, 22 points behind league leaders Juventus), they did beat Juve 4-2 in the final to win the Coppa Italia.

To tame Barca, Napoli must control both Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. No easy task. They are both goal-scoring machines. Messi is Barca’s all-time top scorer with 630 goals. He is also credited with 275 assists. It means he has been involved in more than 900 goals for his club.

Suarez is no slouch, either. He has scored 195 goals in far fewer appearances than Messi. This season Messi is top scorer with 24 goals in an average scoring time of 133 minutes per goal, and Suarez is second top scorer with 18 goals in an average of 126 minutes per goal. They both pose a considerable threat.

The key for Napoli if they are to beat Barca will be in midfield, and this is where their January signing of Diego Demme is of significance. Demme’s transfer followed the patter laid down by EPL transfers in January whereby defensive midfielders were the category of players most in demand.

It will be mainly down Demme to get in among the action in the middle of the field, break up Barca’s midfield rhythm, and instigate counter-attacks for Napoli.

There can be little doubt that Napoli will be rated as the underdogs. But that can sometimes work to a team’s advantage, as indeed it did when Gli Azzurri beat I Bianconeri to claim the Coppa Italia trophy.

They put in a determined performance that ended 0-0, forcing the game into penalties which saw them finish as winners by 4-2. Can they do something similar against Barca? We will just have to wait and see.

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