Napoli and Barcelona venture to Switzerland to play what looks on the surface to be a simple glory friendly to entertain a neutral crowd, but both clubs have much more than that to get out of this match. For Barcelona, this is a good chance against a quality opponent to see how their remade roster is shaking out. For Napoli, this will be a stiff challenge as they prepare for their Champions League playoff tie later this month.
Los Cules reborn
Make no mistake: this is not Pep Guardiola's Barcelona any more. Gone are Carels Puyol, Victor Valdes, Cesc Fabregas, and Alexis Sanchez. There are other high-quality players who have come in to replace them, but this Barcelona squad under Luis Enrique is going to be very different from the Barcelona we've grown used to for most of the last decade.
Also missing, at least for tomorrow's match, will be Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano, and Dani Alves, all just returned from their post World Cup vacations. Also missing out with injury are Xavi and new defender Jeremy Mathieu, as well as Neymar, who injured his back in a collision with Camilo Zuniga in the World Cup quarter finals. Alex Song and Ibrahim Afellay also did not travel with the squad for other reasons. The full available Barcelona squad is listed below:
Goalkeepers: Marc Andre Ter Stegen, Claudio Bravo, Jordi Masip
Defenders: Martin Montoya, Jordi Alba, Marc Bartra, Gerard Piqué, Edgar Ié, Franck Bagnack, Alex Grimaldo,
Midfielders: Sergio Busquets, Andrés Iniesta, Sergi Roberto, Ivan Rakitic, Rafinha Alcântara, Sergi Samper, Alen Halilovic
Forwards: Gerard Deulofeu, Pedro, Adama Traore, Muni El Haddadi, Sandro Ramirez
For the Barcelona side of the story, check out the match preview written by our sister blog Barca Blaugranes.
Gearing up for the big show
This match means a lot on a sentimental and point-proving level, but it's what this match can to to prepare for two future matches that mean a whole lot more. Even with the massive changes they're undergoing and in a friendly environment, a match against Barcelona is almost certainly going to give Napoli a sterner test than they're likely to face in their Playoff matchup. That's not meant as an insult to the teams Napoli can be drawn with; Lille, Besiktas, and the other teams who could make it to the next round are good clubs, but Barcelona is one of the best in the world.
That means Napoli will have to be at their best to get a result, and will use as strong a squad as possible. It looks like Rafa Benitez has the same idea, because he's selected a very strong side to take to Switzerland; of their main players, only Federico Fernandez and Goran Pandev have been left in Italy, Fernandez because he only just Tuesday returned to training, and Pandev because of a minor injury. Gonzalo Higuain, Camilo Zuniga, and Henrique Buss are also unlikely to play a large role as they rebuild their fitness levels after recent returns.
Duvan Zapata has started Napoli's last two friendlies, but expect new boy Michu to get the nod for this one. The Spaniard has fared well in his runouts so far, and might be better suited to an opponent like Barcelona. Certainly Rafa will be expecting him to play a bigger role than Zapata in the upcoming playoff matches, and will want him as ready as possible.
Speaking of new signings, Kalidou Koulibaly has been very impressive so far in pre-season matches, and should continue to partner Raul Albiol as a result. Otherwise, expect as close to what the "regular" starting lineup for this roster should be.
Projected Lineups Sure To Be Wrong
Barcelona (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Montoya, Bartra, Pique, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta (c); Deulofeu, Pedro, Rafinha
Napoli (4-2-3-1): Rafael; Maggio, Koulibaly, Albiol, Ghoulam; Inler, Jorginho; Callejon, Hamsik, Insigne; Michu
The match will start Wednesday at 8:00 PM CET/2:00 PM EST. Television coverage will be on Premium Calcio 3 in Italy and beIN Sports USA in America. Other live viewing options can be found here, and as always, we'll have a match thread live here for discussion of the game at hand. You can also follow along with us live on Twitter.