sport news Napoli and Barcelona's last-16 meeting of the champions from and Spain is ... trends now

sport news Napoli and Barcelona's last-16 meeting of the champions from and Spain is ... trends now
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sport news Napoli and Barcelona's last-16 meeting of the champions from Italy and Spain is ... trends now

Champions League last-16 sets two of football’s biggest basket-case clubs against each other tonight. And with neither side able to contemplate the consequences of an early exit from Europe the stakes have been cranked up far higher than for any other knockout game at this stage.

Barcelona and Napoli both won their leagues last season but the spiral has been downward ever since. And for whoever gets knocked out, the descent will only become steeper and more rapid.

This was meant to be the tie when the losing club sacked their coach but Napoli have already torn up that narrative but getting their firing and hiring in early.

Walter Mazzarri was sacked on Tuesday just 24 hours before tonight’s game.

As for Xavi, can you sack a man who has already quit? Well yes you can because Xavi quit because he knew he was being fired after losing 5-3 at home to Villarreal in January. 

Barcelona travel to Naples for the first leg of their round of 16 tie on Wednesday

Barcelona travel to Naples for the first leg of their round of 16 tie on Wednesday 

The Catalans have already announced Xavi will leave the club at the end of the season

The Catalans have already announced Xavi will leave the club at the end of the season

Napoli sacked Walter Mazzarri on Tuesday after a dismal run of form

Napoli sacked Walter Mazzarri on Tuesday after a dismal run of form 

He has only been allowed to stay on until the end of the season because of who he is according to president Joan Laporta, and it’s a favour that will be undone if it starts to look like leaving him in charge until the summer will leave Barcelona without European football next season.

Laporta and his opposite number Aurelio de Laurentiis are currently engaged in a long-distance game of ‘mad president Top Trumps’. Laporta probably thinks his fit of temper in hospitality after a recent home draw with soon to be relegated Granada, tipping over a tray of spring rolls, was bonkers enough.

But De Laurentiis saw the canapé carnage and said ‘hold my beer’. He didn’t just change the club’s manager this week he hired the new man while the soon to be fired one was taking the club’s penultimate training session before tonight’s game.

If there is one thing that does set the two clubs apart it’s the attitude of the fans to so much chaos. In Barcelona they are politely embarrassed by it. In Naples they embrace it.

They are already talking about how Roberto Di Matteo took over Chelsea at the last-16 stage in 2012 and went on to win the Champions League. 

Mazzarri only won six games in 17 matches so he had to go. And they see his replacement Francesco Calzona as a return to the good old days of life under Maurizio Sarri and Luciano Spalletti because he worked as an assistant under both.

He started his press conference on Tuesday by thanking the Slovakian FA for letting him take the job while also staying on as their manager. And once more, anything strange one side can do the other lot can do stranger. 

Napoli won a first Serie A title in 33 years last season, playing sparkling football along the way

Napoli won a first Serie A title in 33 years last season, playing sparkling football along the way

Victor Osimhen has failed to replicate last season's stellar form and has been involved in a number of public spats this season

Victor Osimhen has failed to replicate last season's stellar form and has been involved in a number of public spats this season 

Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis has already sacked two managers this season

Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis has already sacked two managers this season 

Francesco Calzona (right) has taken over from Mazzarri until the end of the season

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