Soccer-Barca face biggest game of the season against Napoli, says Xavi

Credit: REUTERS/Remo Casilli

BARCELONA, Spain, March 11 (Reuters) - Barcelona's Champions League last-16 second leg tie at home to Napoli will be their most important game of the season, manager Xavi Hernandez said on Monday.

The first leg was 1-1 and Barca on Tuesday have a chance to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 2020 after failing to get past the group stage in the past two seasons.

The last time they won a Champions League knockout game was in a 3-1 home win over Napoli in 2020. With the club third in LaLiga, eight points behind leaders Real Madrid, Europe is now the priority.

"The most important game of the season? Yes, it is, and we're ready, we're excited," Xavi told a press conference.

"It's been four years since we've been in the quarter-finals and that's how we see it, we want to compete against an opponent who, although they are not going through the best moment, have the base of the (2023) Scudetto champion."

Barca's title defence looks likely to end in failure, while Napoli's is already over, with the Serie A champions seventh in the standings and 31 points adrift of leaders Inter Milan.

Francesco Calzona took over in February, Napoli's third manager this season, and they are undefeated in their five games since then.

"Napoli have improved with the new coach, who is more dynamic and comfortable," Xavi said.

"I expect a brave Napoli that plays from the back and presses high, that doesn't speculate, has a lot of individual talent, it's a big game and it's a great team, current champions of Italy."

Barcelona have struggled with injuries of late, Frenkie de Jong and Pedri among those unavailable, and Xavi confirmed that forward Ferran Torres, who has missed the last seven games with a hamstring problem, is still not ready to return.

The manager hopes to have Torres back for their next league game at Atletico Madrid on Sunday but for now is not looking for any excuses despite the absentees.

"Our absences are important but we have to compete. We were better there (away to Napoli) and we have to be better here," he said.

"It's a chance to be in the quarter-finals, it's a chance to turn the tables, the absences are not an excuse, we're not afraid of failing, it's a chance to compete in front of our fans."

(Reporting by Trevor Stynes; Editing by Ken Ferris)

((Trevor.Stynes@thomsonreuters.com;))

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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