NAPLES, Feb 21 — Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez says preparing for Wednesday’s Champions League last 16 tie against Napoli has proved tricky with the Italians now under new management.

Struggling Napoli sacked Walter Mazzarri and brought in Slovakia coach Francesco Calzona on Monday, 48 hours before they host Barcelona.

“Napoli changed their coach in a surprising way, they have their reasons, but it’s not an easy match to prepare for, as we don’t know what to expect,” Xavi told the eve-of-match press conference on Tuesday.

He added: “The new manager knows the team well. I have no idea what tactical system he’s going to use.


“What’s important is to focus on our style of play and what we want to do, on our ambitions which are to reach the quarter-finals.

“What is certain is that we will have to defend well up against their very strong attacking trio.

“(Victor) Osimhen, (Khvicha) Kvaratskhelia and (Matteo) Politano can turn a game.”


Napoli, last season’s Serie A champions under Luciano Spalletti who is now with the Italian national team, are once again trying to start afresh after sacking their second manager of a disastrous season — Spalletti’s replacement Rudi Garcia was axed in November.

Despite the state of flux at Napoli, Xavi denied his side were favourites going into the tie.

“It’s 50-50, we’ll see tomorrow who is favourite at the end of the game,” added Xavi who has announced he is stepping down as Barca boss at the end of the season.

“It doesn’t change anything for me nor for my team. I’m motivated, and want to pass that motivation onto the team.

“When you are a player or manager at Barcelona the pressure is always the same and it’s very strong.”

Barcelona, five time title-holders, failed to make it out of the group stage of the Champions League in the past two seasons, and were knocked out by Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 in 2021. — AFP