Napoli v Barcelona: Fiery first leg fixture awaits in the San Paolo


NAPOLI host Barcelona on Tuesday evening as the Last 16 of the Champions League continues. We asked Jack Lambden (@_JackL_) to analyses the odds and share his best bets.

Napoli v Barcelona | Tuesday 25th February 2020, 20:00 | BT Sport

Barcelona’s players will be subject to temperature testing when they arrive in Naples for their Last 16 Champions League first leg tie with Italy in the midst of trying to contain its Coronavirus outbreak.

You would expect the Catalan side to be tested on the field too as, despite a poor campaign overall to date, Napoli’s recent upturn in form is much more reflective of the quality at Gennaro Gattuso’s disposal. Six wins from the last seven almost matches Barca’s own form of seven wins from nine and provides the backdrop for an intriguing encounter.

Most attacking players would be slightly concerned by going four games without a goal but for Lionel Messi, it was almost unheard of. The Argentine certainly answered any critics in the weekend win over Eibar however, scoring four times.

At one point, it looked as if the now 32-year-old would see out his entire career for Barcelona but with disputes with the club hierarchy in this and previous season’s going public, Messi could be attracted away by money elsewhere to see out the final few years of his wonderful career.

Looking at arguably the greatest of all-time in the context of this game, I think he could get some joy if Gattuso tweaks too much tactically, as he has suggested in the build-up to this he may do.

Messi is 27/25 to score anytime with Unibet and it’s hard to ignore any plus money price on the magician to find the net in a game, let alone against a defence that has conceded 11 times in the Italian manager’s five Serie A home games in charge.

Messi has scored 114 goals in this competition in his career, with only his ‘GOAT rival’ Cristiano Ronaldo having found the net more in Champions League history. Add in to the equation that he takes all free-kicks around the opposition box and penalties too, always a bonus for this type of bet, and the odds look even more attractive.

One of my main plays however involves midfielder Arturo Vidal. The ball-winner started that 5-0 success over Basque side Eibar on the left of a front three. The bet is team news dependent, but for the Chilean to have one or more shot on target in the game is 6/4 with Betfair.

Vidal managed two shots in that contest, his joint highest tally all season, so should he be deployed in a similar role he will fancy his chances at getting one or two efforts away on goal in what I expect to be an end-to-end contest.

With new signing Martin Braithwaite ineligible and previous incumbents of a front three position Ousmane Dembélé, Luis Suarez and Sergi Roberto all injured, Ansu Fati could get the nod ahead of Vidal on the left wing but even if Vidal drops into a deeper role, his stats are interesting as part of a midfield three.

Six goals this season is an impressive return for someone who isn’t a regular starter and on five of those occasions, Vidal bagged with his only shot of the game so it proves he hits the target often when he does get efforts on goal away.

An angle that always comes to mind when you think of games involving Italian and Spanish teams is cards and plenty of them. German referee and Lawyer-by-day Felix Brych takes charge of this match and he is not afraid of reaching for his pocket as his most recent game between Monchengladbach and Hoffenheim showed with eight cards in total.

The doctor of law has one of the highest cards per game ratios in the Bundesliga and these teams are no strangers to bookings either.

Napoli’s cards per game average in Serie A in 2019/20 is 2.36 and Barcelona’s in La Liga is 2.44, with these sides receiving two or more cards in their last three respective home/away games. To add to this, Barcelona ranked a surprising fourth out of the 32 group stage teams for cards accumulated and with plenty of players who rack up yellows and reds on the pitch on Tuesday evening, each team over 1 card at 11/10 with Bet365 is appealing using their BetBuilder feature.

The same bet is as short as 8/11 elsewhere so we’re getting some value when shopping around for odds.

Both teams went unbeaten through their six group games and even if Barca are favourites to qualify, this first leg really could go either way. Napoli may have to deploy a pragmatic approach that served them well in their first 6 games in the competition this season and saw them win four points from the world’s current best side Liverpool.

Best Bets

Napoli v Barcelona – Arturo Vidal 1+ Shot on Target (6/4 Betfair)

Napoli v Barcelona – Each Team Over 1 Card (11/10 Bet365)

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