Things have gone from bad to worse for Barcelona, who have been handed a challenging draw in the Europa League Round of 32
The famous Spanish side have already had a challenging time this season, having suffered severe financial hardship over the summer. That meant they couldn’t afford to retain the services of Lionel Messi, who subsequently left in floods of tears for Paris St Germain. Their headline replacement, Sergio Agüero, is set to announce his retirement, further impacting their chances of silverware.
On top of that, they’ve sat outside the top six in La Liga for much of the season and suffered shocking defeats against Benfica (3-0) and twice against Bayern Munich (3-0) to slump out of the Champions League. Ronald Koeman was swiftly fired but wasn’t in the dugout for the final group game defeat in Munich. That saw them slide into the Europa League, a competition new manager Xavi believes they have no business in, as reported by ESPN.
Europa League Round Of 32 Draw Schedule And Date: Barcelona vs Napoli
He may get his wish earlier than expected, after this week’s draw paired them with Italian side Napoli, a star-studded squad that wouldn’t look out of place in the Champions League. The draw could barely have been tougher, with the likes of Sheriff Tiraspol, Rangers and Braga having been potential opponents. Instead, they face Napoli, who finished second in Serie A on three occasions in the last six seasons, and who are fourth in this campaign.
They have a star-studded squad, one that Barcelona may eye enviously given their current predicament. Dries Mertens, Victor Osimhen, Lorenzo Insigne and Kalidou Koulibaly are all world class players, capable of firing Gli Azzurri to the next round.
Current favourites Dortmund were handed a favourable tie against Scottish side Glasgow Rangers. Dortmund are top of the current list of Europa League favourites with Coral, marginally ahead of Xavi’s Barcelona, and they face a Rangers side who are rank outsiders. The Ibrox giants have recently lost manager Steve Gerrard to Aston Villa. They are not expected to pose a problem for Erling Haaland, Jude Bellingham and the rest of the powerful Dortmund side.
Some sides amongst the front runners are not in action at this stage; West Ham topped their group and miss the next round, which pairs those finishing second in their group with teams dropping out of the Champions League. Atalanta face the Greek side Olympiacos, whilst Lazio are pitted against top Portuguese side Porto.
As for Barcelona, they appreciate that the Italian side poses a huge challenge for Xavi’s side. “Napoli are a great team of real European pedigree,” said Barcelona director of football Mateu Alemany. “They’ve got a lot of experience so we’re aware it’s going to be really hard. Obviously the draw hasn’t been very generous to us but that’s how these competitions are.”
The first leg is due to take place in Barcelona on February 17, where hopefully Xavi’s side will be more settled and ready to put up more of a fight than they managed in the Champion League. The return leg sees them fly to Naples on February 24, in the aptly named Diego Armando Maradona Stadium. The late Argentinian played for both sides during an illustrious career, and it is their first meeting since he passed last year.
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