Europa League play returns Thursday with the new knockout round play-offs as FC Barcelona square off against Napoli in the first leg. As part of the new format, the eight group runners-up face the eight teams who finished third in their Champions League groups. The eight group winners from Europa await in the round of 16.
While these teams don't have a whole lot of history on the pitch, they're mainly connected by the transfer of Diego Maradona from Barca to Napoli in the 1980. They've played just twice before in European competitions. That was back in the 2019-20 round of 16, with the two legs played nearly six months apart due to the coronavirus pandemic. Barca came away with a 4-2 aggregate win. They also played two friendlies in the United States back in 2019.
Here's our storylines, how you can watch the match and more:
How to watch and odds
- Date: Thursday, Feb. 17 | Time: 12:45 p.m.
- Location: Camp Nou -- Barcelona, Spain
- TV and live stream: Paramount+
- Odds: Barca -110; Draw +250; Napoli +300 (via Caesars Sportsbook)
Barca: There have been some big changes to the squad for the competition as they've been downgraded from UCL to Europa. Gone is Philippe Coutinho as the most noticeable exit, but in come three players who can be difference makers. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Ferran Torres and Adama Traore are tasked with getting this team back on track during their post-Lionel Messi days. Expect all three to see the pitch in this one.
Napoli: They've dealt with injuries all season long but now enter the game at full strength. They have been in fine form and continue to improve defensively. Manager Luciano Spalletti hinted in his pre-match press conference that they may prioritize defending and try to exploit space. With Barca's possession-heavy style, don't be surprised to see this team go on the counter to find its best scoring chances.
A goal a piece leaves things all square for the second leg as Aubameyang gets his first goal at the club. Pick: Barcelona 1, Napoli 1