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Barca may need youth to get past Napoli, reach CL final 8

Barca may need youth to get past Napoli, reach CL final 8

Barcelona coach Quique Setin says that he is ready to count on youngsters Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig to eliminate Napoli and advance to the Champions League final eight in Portugal.

BARCELONA, Spain Barcelona coach Quique Setin says that he is ready to count on youngsters Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig to eliminate Napoli and advance to the Champions League final eight in Portugal.

Barcelona will be without midfielders Sergio Busquets, Arturo Vidal and Arthur for Saturdays second leg of their round-of-16 tie. The match will be played five months after the Spanish side earned a 1-1 draw at Napoli before the pandemic brought most sports to a halt.

Both Rique and Ansu are ready to play, Setin said Friday. They have performed and played pretty well and could perfectly well start (against Napoli). And if they do start, I am sure they will be guaranteed to play well.

The 20-year-old Puig has a good chance to earn his debut in Europes top-tier club competition with both Busquets and Vidal suspended for the critical match. Arthur has had a falling out with the club after securing his transfer to Juventus for next season and refusing to return to team practice.

Setin values Puigs passing and ball-control skills, which remind some Barcelona fans of Xavi Hernndez and Andrs Iniesta, and rewarded him with a bigger role during the final stretch of the Spanish league.

Fati, 17, made a huge splash this season by becoming the youngest player to score in the Spanish league and the Champions League, among other precocious scoring milestones.

With Lionel Messi and Luis Surez set to start in attack, Fati could get picked over fellow forward Antoine Griezmann, who was cleared to play by team doctors on Friday after having recovered from a right thigh injury last month.

Clement Lenglet was also cleared by team doctors and will likely play with Gerard Pique in the center of the defense with Samuel Umtiti still injured.

With only 13 first-team players available, Setin has called up seven members of Barcelonas youth squad, including American Konrad de la Fuente.

It would have been better to have all our players available, but that is not the case, Setin said. We are going to have to rely on many players from our youth team. We have to adapt and we will do our best not to miss the players who cant be with us.

The match at Camp Nou will be played without spectators due to local health regulations. Barcelona and large areas of northeast Spain are seeing a recent spike in cases of the virus that causes COVID-19, but health officials have assured UEFA that the game is safe to play. despite the concerns of Napoli.

Setin said that he is confident that keeping his job does not hinge on qualifying for the bubble Champions League tournament to be played in Lisbon later this month. Setin has been under intense pressure since Barcelona lost the Spanish league to Real Madrid last month, when Messi called his team weak and said that unless the team turned things around it would lose to Napoli.

In no moment have I thought that tomorrows game could be my last, Setin said. We are focused on advancing and playing the rest of the competition in Portugal with the same sense of excitement that we feel now.

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  • First Published: August 7, 2020, 5:21 PM IST
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