27 mins: Barcelona win the ball on the halfway line, and Messi turns and for the first time sees space in front of him. There are three defenders, and Griezmann in support to the left, but he waits too long before passing and the ball hits Manolas.
25 mins: Busquets brings down Demme, who stays down in apparent agony, as if impaled on a javelin. Replays suggest there wasn’t actually much contact.
24 mins: Another spell of Barcelona possession, this one ending with De Jong’s attempted backheel flick to Messi on the edge of the area.
21 mins: Barcelona pass the ball for a while, well away from Napoli’s goal. Messi drifts right in search of space, but can’t find possession so easily.
17 mins: Chance! Callejon is released into space on the right by a fine first-time pass from Fabian Ruiz, but he attempts to find Zielinski and the ball deflects off a defender to Ter Stegen. Replays suggest Callejon was also narrowly offside but still, encouraging.
14 mins: Most of the play so far has been congested inside a 30-yard strip of pitch between the edge of Napoli’s area and the edge of the centre circle, with both teams struggling to break out of it.
10 mins: Another shot! Mertens, possibly offside, runs onto Insigne’s pass, cuts inside Pique and shoots into the arms of Ter Stegen from the left-hand corner of the area.
9 mins: A shot! Messi plays a one-two with Griezmann and shoots over the bar from 20 yards, with four defenders closing him down.
7 mins: More Barcelona possession. Napoli have all 10 outfield players behind the ball while this is going on, and Barça eventually run out of space.
4 mins: Napoli find Insigne in space on the left, but instead of running into more space he cuts inside where it’s more congested and then hits a pass into Busquets’ leg.
1 min: Peeeeep! Action!
The players are out, anthems have been played, hands shaken and coin tossed. Lorenzo Insigne appeared to crack quite a good gag at the coin toss, to judge from Messi’s grin. Anyway, action.
The players are in the tunnel. Nearly football time!
Dries Mertens can do some incredible things with bubble gum:
Given the conditions, lots of fans seem to think it’s acceptable to wear these:
And lots of them are also wearing surgical masks.
Team news update: Umtiti and De Jong come in for Barcelona, with Lenglet and Arthur dropping to the bench. Napoli also make two changes, Zielinski and Callejon coming into the starting XI while Politano and Elmas are among the substitutes.
The team sheets have been handed in, and the names upon them were these:
Napoli: Ospina, Di Lorenzo, Manolas, Maksimovic, Rui, Fabian, Demme, Zielinski, Callejon, Mertens, Insigne. Subs: Meret, Allan, Elmas, Luperto, Politano, Hysaj, Milik.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen, Nelson Semedo, Pique, Umtiti, Firpo, Busquets, Rakitic, de Jong, Vidal, Messi, Griezmann. Subs: Arthur, Neto, Lenglet, Puig, Fati, Araujo, Akieme.
Referee: Felix Brych (Germany).
This is a massive week for Barcelona. Massive. Huge. First their Champions League hopes are on the line against Napoli, and then they visit Real Madrid in an explosive top-of-the-table La Liga megaclash on Sunday. Of course every fool knows that European glory is their absolute toppermost priority this and every season, but if there’s any domestic fixture that can’t be ignored it’s their next one, particularly with Barça protecting a wafer-thin two-point cushion at the top of the table. So, to summarise, we’ll take each game as it comes, yeah?
There’s not much you can learn from the teams’ head-to-head record, because they don’t have one: this is the very first Barça-Napoli encounter. And there’s very little to be gained from examining the managers’ Champions League pedigree, because they don’t have one: for both of them this is their debut in the competition. “It’s exciting for me to start this Champions League journey in a stadium like this with so much passion and history,” trilled Quique Setien. “There’s no better place to start.”
As for Napoli’s Gennaro Gattuso, he did play six times against Barcelona in the Champions League as a player, but there’s not much to be gleaned there either: he won two, drew two and lost two. “When I played against Barca it seemed that they were from another category because they didn’t let you see the ball,” he says. “We know therefore that we will face an opponent of a stratospheric level, and we know that the risks are big, but having said that I don’t want my players to be afraid. Respect for Barcelona is maximum, but I want a Napoli that is not afraid and that will play with their heads held high.”
If it’s half as fun as the last Italy v Spain encounter in the Champions League, namely Atalanta’s thrashing of a profligate Valencia last Wednesday, then we’re in for a treat. Here’s a confusing picture of the Stadio San Paolo, apparently taken with an Equirectangular Panorama. Welcome!