Rediff.com  » Sports » Napoli game make or break for Setein's Barca

Napoli game make or break for Setein's Barca

August 07, 2020 14:25 IST
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FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi, Arturo Vidal and Ousmane Dembele share a laugh during practice. The Catalans will be without the suspended Sergio Busquets and Arturo Vidal for the Napoli tie.

IMAGE: FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi, Arturo Vidal and Ousmane Dembele share a laugh during practice. The Catalans will be without the suspended Sergio Busquets and Arturo Vidal for the Napoli tie. Photograph: FC Barcelona/Instagram

After having three weeks to rest and process their turbulent end to the domestic campaign, Barcelona return to action in Saturday's Champions League last-16 second leg at home to Napoli, with coach Quique Setien's future on the line.

The tie is balanced at 1-1 following February's first leg in Naples, with the victor earning a ticket to the final-eight of the tournament in Lisbon later in the month, a solution to the competition being disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even though the draw was not the worst result for Barca, their performance was slammed by captain Lionel Messi, who declared they would have no hope of winning Europe's top prize if they continued to play as they did in Naples.

 

Messi's damning assessment of the team came home to roost when the season re-started after the coronavirus stoppage and Barca surrendered the league title to Real Madrid, prompting the captain to launch a new tirade against the team.

The Argentine's outburst was interpreted as a swipe against Setien, who had never managed a team in the Champions League until he succeeded Ernesto Valverde in January and ended the campaign shorn of credit.

Even though president Josep Maria Bartomeu gave Setien a vote of confidence ahead of the second leg, it is hard to see the coach surviving a potential elimination to Napoli.

After all, the Champions League has become an obsession for Barca ever since their last triumph in 2015, while Valverde was dismissed due to his inability to steer the team to European glory even though his side won back-to-back league titles.

The Catalans will be without the suspended Sergio Busquets and Arturo Vidal but are boosted by the return of Dutch midfielder Frenkie de Jong and French forwards Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann.

"The first leg was a difficult game for us, they put a lot of men behind the ball and it was not our best game or result but I believe we can do better against them now," De Jong told Barca's website.

Napoli meanwhile are sweating on the fitness of forward Lorenzo Insigne after he hurt a thigh muscle in his team's last game of the season as they came seventh in Serie A, their worst domestic finish since 2009.

Barca stadium facelift further delayed due to coronavirus - director

The completion date for renovations to Barcelona's Camp Nou stadium has been pushed even further back to 2025, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the club's financial director Jordi Moix has said.

Plans to increase the ground's capacity from 99,000 to 105,000 and install a roof were approved by members in 2014, with work set to begin in 2017 and be completed by 2021, at a cost of 600 million euros ($710.16 million).

Yet Moix said political changes in the city and the instability created by the region's push for independence had caused the delay, which was then exacerbated by the pandemic.

"If we approve the financing for this season and start building work next summer at full speed we are talking about four years of works and we are talking about inaugurating the stadium in 2025," Moix told newspaper La Vanguardia on Thursday.

"If everything goes to plan I see it happening by that date. It's been heavily delayed, of course. I wish we could have started two or three years ago.

"There are two elements we couldn't control, a change in the local government and then trying to agree everything in a politically exceptional time. And then you add the coronavirus to all that, which has delayed almost everything."

Moix added that Barca had lost around 20% of revenue to the pandemic, which has obliterated matchday income and commercial revenue due to the paralysing effect the virus has had on tourism.

Yet he said the club still urgently needed to push forward with the renovations to their colossal yet ageing stadium to keep up with other top European clubs who are renovating their grounds and increasing revenues as a result.

"It is more necessary than ever. We have to revitalise the stadium whatever it takes. Our rivals in Europe are doing it or have already done it," Moix said.

"We have to do it because the potential for income is much higher with a reformed stadium, with greater income from boxes or the naming rights. It's an essential project."

Barca's arch rivals Real Madrid have accelerated renovation works on their Santiago Bernabeu stadium while Atletico Madrid moved in to the Wanda Metropolitano in 2017.

Premier League champions Liverpool meanwhile are continuing to expand Anfield and Tottenham Hotspur opened a shiny new ground last year at a cost of one billion pounds ($1.32 billion).

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