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Leagues: Europa League

Napoli fretting on injuries ahead of Barca showdown

Milan (AFP) – Luciano Spalletti is hoping to have a fit first-choice team ready to face Barcelona as Napoli turn their attentions to their decisive Europa League clash in Naples after escaping Cagliari with an undeserved 1-1 draw on Monday.

Victor Osimhen saved a point for Napoli in Sardinia with an 87th-minute equaliser but did not start the game as Spalletti tried to save the players he could for the showdown with Barca at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.

Captain Lorenzo Insigne and key midfielders Stanislav Lobotka and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa were among those unavailable on Monday, and Spalletti also started with Fabian Ruiz and Adam Ounas on the bench with an eye on Thursday’s clash.

“We’re hoping to play them with players who are fit and in a position to play,” said Spalletti.

“We hope to have them all available. This is the kind of game that you dreamed about as a child… I’ve waited a lifetime to play them.”

Napoli emerged with a lot of credit from last week’s 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou which leaves the tie on a knife-edge.

They played with verve and confidence for the first hour, deservedly going ahead through Piotr Zielinski before succumbing to tiredness and Barcelona’s trademark possession football.

Ferran Torres levelled from the penalty spot but missed a number of chances which could have easily pushed the tie in the Catalans’ favour.

Barca come into the match in high spirits after running out 4-1 winners at Valencia and moving into La Liga’s top four thanks to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s hat-trick.

Xavi’s team are unbeaten in five and with the Gabon striker in their ranks after he quit Arsenal they have a serious goal threat who could push Barca back into the Champions League.

“It’s a luxury to have a player like him arriving for free,” said Barca icon Sergio Busquets after Aubameyang’s treble.

“When he arrived he hadn’t played many minutes but he’s getting them now and I hope he helps us like he has today because he’s a great player.”

– Champions League level –

Such is the high-profile nature of the fixture that after the Cagliari draw Spalletti spoke about teams being tired “after Champions League games”.

Napoli certainly looked weary on Monday, missing out on top spot in Serie A after a display which Spalletti admitted did not merit a draw, much less a win which would have moved them first on goal difference.

They were outplayed by a Cagliari team who took the lead through Gaston Pereiro in the 58th minute and were then kept from claiming a deserved win by a series of David Ospina saves.

It was Ospina’s fault that Napoli went behind as he somehow let Pereiro’s tame shot slip through his fingers but the Colombian redeemed himself with some fine stops.

The home fans could barely believe their eyes two minutes after Pereiro’s opener when Ospina pulled off a great save to keep out Alessandro Deiola’s close-range header before Daniele Baselli somehow fired over.

Ospina saved Napoli’s skin again with four minutes remaining, tipping over Razvan Marin’s dipping, curling shot from the edge of the area and seconds later Osimhen popped up to reward his goalkeeper’s sterling work with the equaliser.

Osimhen’s strike was his second since coming back from face fractures last month and his return to form is a huge plus for a team which could be without a host of regulars.

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