Ilkay Gundogan believes Barcelona face a “harder” test against Napoli following the Italian club’s change of manager.

The Serie A champions sacked Walter Mazzarri on Monday and immediately brought in former coach Francesco Calzona until the end of the season.

His debut in the dugout comes at home to Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash on Wednesday night.

Speaking to La Vanguardia, Gundogan said: “This is what the Champions League is all about, making big demands.

“I love this kind of pressure. Every game starts from zero. The fact they have just changed managers won’t make it any easier for us. If anything, it makes it even harder.

“There are other teams in the competition with more of a chance and better experience, but if we can reach the quarter finals, we are entering special territory. I am a realist, but I also know it’s difficult for everybody.”

Barcelona will see their boss Xavi leave the club at the end of the season.

The 44-year-old confirmed the news last month, with Barca falling behind rivals Real Madrid and Girona at the top of the LaLiga table.

Gundogan, who joined the club from Manchester City last summer after completing the treble, admitted he “didn’t expect” Xavi to leave.

He said: “Xavi played a huge role in me coming to Barcelona. If our conversations had gone another way, I wouldn’t be here.

“He made the difference and I’m grateful for that. I didn’t expect him to announce he was leaving at the end of the season, but I respect his decision.

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“He should get a lot of credit. He thinks about his family, the players and the club before himself. Xavi loves Barca.”

Despite their struggles in the league, Xavi steered Barcelona to top spot in Champions League Group H.

Napoli finished second to Madrid in Group C and are also having a far from happy time of things domestically.

They lie ninth in Serie A and have won just twice in their last eight league games.

Barcelona have Joao Felix and Sergi Roberto fit again after spells on the sidelines.

Napoli head coach Walter Mazzarri has stressed a Champions League place is still attainable for the Serie A title-holders as they prepare to host Hellas Verona on Sunday.

After winning a first Scudetto in 33 years last season under Luciano Spalletti, the Partenopei have had a significant drop off in a 2023-24 campaign that saw new boss Rudi Garcia replaced by Mazzarri in November.

Their nine league games since then have comprised three wins, two draws and four losses, and they are currently ninth in the table, four points behind fourth place.

Asked at a press conference if the Champions League spots remained a realistic objective for Napoli, Mazzarri said: “I don’t look at the table for my own reasons.

“But it’s clear that there are many teams within three to four points, and therefore the objective is possible.”

Since starting the calendar year with a 3-0 loss at Torino, Napoli – still without star striker Victor Osimhen due to international duty with Nigeria at the Africa Cup of Nations – have won 2-1 at home against Salernitana, beaten Fiorentina 3-0, lost 1-0 to AC Milan in the Supercoppa Italiana and drawn 0-0 at Lazio in their return to league action last weekend.

Mazzarri said: “In the last few games we created little, for various reasons, also due to the strength of the opponents, but we returned solid and balanced, after the very bad performance in Torino.

“It’s clear that we will need to be more aggressive and proactive to create scoring opportunities, perhaps even shooting from outside, because we can’t always enter the area with triangles and penetrations.

“This week we are also working on this aspect and I think we will see the results.”

Napoli face a Verona outfit who went into the weekend just outside the relegation zone, and who brought in a trio of players on transfer deadline day – Stefan Mitrovic, Karol Swiderski and Fabien Centonze.

Boss Marco Baroni told a press conference ahead of the trip to Stadio Diego Armando Maradona: “We need points, but we have to start from the performance.

“These are complicated and difficult stadiums, where we must not be afraid. We will have to play a match of personality, having great respect for the opponent.

“These are teams against which you have to be very careful within the performance. We will need to be compact, focused, and help each other on the pitch.”

Napoli boss Walter Mazzarri hopes his side can keep building their confidence in Thursday’s SuperCoppa semi-final.

His side go up against Fiorentina in Saudi Arabia, where the winner will face either Inter Milan or Lazio on Monday.

Napoli have endured a mixed run of form recently and had lost four of their previous six matches before beating struggling Salernitana in Serie A on Saturday, lifting them to eighth in the league.

Amir Rrahmani struck in stoppage time to snatch a win that Mazzarri hopes has given his side positivity going forward.

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“Our sole focus is the Super Cup right now. The message I’m looking to give to the team is to give their all in our upcoming game,” he told a pre-match press conference.

“I’m happy with Saturday’s win because it’s given the lads confidence and peace of mind. We need to keep this up in order to fully recover the belief that we’d lost in recent times.”

Mazzarri will make a late call on Jens Cajuste and Piotr Zielinski for the semi-final, while Diego Demme is unlikely to feature due to a strain.

In October, Napoli were beaten 3-1 by Fiorentina in the league under former manager Rudi Garcia and striker Giovanni Simeone knows what challenges the team can present.

He said: “We’re really motivated for this game. We’re Serie A title holders and we’re keen to give our all.

“We’re not the favourites – the tie is very much open. However, we’ll go out there with a lot of positive energy.

“Fiorentina play good football and have often caused us issues. We’ll need to try to deny them of possession. We’ll need to put in a top performance, showing mental fortitude, belief and focus.”

Fiorentina have had a great season so far, sitting fourth in Serie A and having reached the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia with a penalty shoot-out win against Bologna earlier this month.

They were held to a frustrating 2-2 draw against Udinese on Sunday in the league, but manager Vincenzo Italiano is hopeful his side can give Napoli a “tough time”.

“We all have one aim: win the semi-final and reach the final to fight for the trophy,” he said.

“Napoli are a strong side, they are Italian champions and have quality players. I’m hoping to have prepared the game in the best possible way to give them a tough time.”

Napoli’s dismal season continued as they succumbed to a seventh defeat of the season in Serie A, losing 3-0 at Torino.

Antonio Sanabria, Nikola Vlasic and Alessandro Buongiorno got the goals as Walter Mazzarri’s defending champions had another miserable afternoon.

A dismal afternoon for the visitors was compounded by the 50th-minute dismissal of Naples-born wing-back Pasquale Mazzocchi, less than three minutes into his debut.

They are now winless and without a goal in four matches and lie 20 points behind leaders Inter Milan.

Napoli had a 20-3 aggregate goal advantage in the last eight meetings of these two teams in Turin, winning seven and drawing the other.

However, it was destined to be the hosts’ day from the moment Sanabria broke the deadlock two minutes before half-time.

Duvan Zapata flicked an Ivan Ilic free-kick on for the Paraguay international, who tucked the ball away left-footed from six yards.

Napoli’s hopes of getting back into the contest were killed off as they made a sloppy start to the second half.

Zapata had already forced Pierluigi Gollini into a save at his near post less than two minutes after the restart when the visitors were reduced to 10 men.

Mazzocchi, a half-time substitute for Piotr Zielinski, had been on the pitch for  three minutes when he received a yellow card for a high, reckless challenge on Valentino Lazaro. However, referee Maurizio Mariani then decided to dismiss the 28-year-old Napoli debutant, following VAR intervention.

Torino soon doubled their advantage, Vlasic beating Gollini with a well-placed low right-footed shot into the corner two minutes later.

Sanabria hit the post from eight yards and Zapata failed to tuck the rebound away from close range, with Gollini blocking with his foot then scooping the ball away before it could cross the line.

However, the dominant hosts made it 3-0 in the 66th minute when central defender Buongiorno headed home a Lazaro corner.

Giovanni Simeone skied an 80th-minute attempt at a consolation goal, capping a miserable Napoli display as Torino moved to within a point of their ninth-placed opponents.

Serie A champions Napoli were dumped out of the Coppa Italia following a shock 4-0 defeat to Frosinone at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.

Napoli had been the favourites to reach the quarter-final stage, but second-half strikes from Enzo Barrenechea, Giuseppe Caso, a Walid Cheddira penalty and Abdou Harroui saw Frosinone record a famous victory.

Walter Mazzarri’s side have endured a turbulent defence of the Serie A championship they secured after a 33-year wait, falling 14 points adrift of leaders Inter Milan with just 16 matches played.

But after ending a three-game losing run to secure their place in the knockout stages of the Champions League place with a 2-0 win against Braga, and then recording a 2-1 victory against Cagliari in the league, Napoli will have expected to take a third win on the bounce against a Frosinone side who were making their debut in the round of 16.

Mazzari made nine changes to the side which beat Cagliari last weekend, while Frosinone boss Eusebio Di Francesco retained only three players from the side that lost at Lecce.

Giovanni Simeone appeared to have given Napoli the lead nine minutes before the interval only to see his goal disallowed by VAR after Jesper Lindstrom was adjudged to have handled the ball in the build-up.

After the interval, Napoli continued to probe for the opener – with Mario Rui’s free-kick striking the woodwork – but the Italian champions were suddenly on the back foot when Barrenechea headed home a corner shortly after the hour mark.

Frosinone then doubled their lead when Giovanni Di Lorenzo’s misplaced pass was intercepted by Caso, who made no mistake in slotting past Napoli goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini with 70 minutes gone.

The home supporters were left stunned as the six-time winners were suddenly facing up to another early exit from the Coppa Italia after their defeat at this stage of the competition by Cremonese last season.

And it would only get worse for Mazzarri’s men when Matias Soule was fouled by Di Lorenzo in the area with Cheddira, on loan from Napoli, scoring Frosinone’s third of the night from the penalty spot before Harroui netted a fourth deep into stoppage time.

It sealed Frosinone’s first ever win against Napoli, and a quarter-final against either Juventus or Salernitana.

Napoli manager Walter Mazzarri hailed a “thrilling” match in prospect after his side were drawn against Barcelona in the last 16 of the Champions League.

The Serie A champions will face their LaLiga counterparts in February after progressing from a tough group which contained Real Madrid, Braga and Union Berlin.

It took a victory on the final matchday against the Portuguese side before qualification was confirmed.

And their reward is a meeting with a Barca side who last played at this stage of the competition in 2021 having been eliminated in the group stage in each of the last two seasons.

Mazzarri replaced the sacked Rudi Garcia in November with two games of the group to go and helped salvage their campaign after dropped points against Real and Union had placed their future in the tournament in jeopardy.

“I said after the match against Cagliari that all the teams who have qualified for the round of 16 are strong and therefore any draw would be difficult,” said Mazzarri.

“This one against Barcelona is especially difficult. For Napoli it will be a thrilling prospect.”

Mazzarri could turn to youngsters Giovanni Simeone, Alessandro Zanoli and Gianluca Gaetano for Tuesday’s Coppa Italia last-16 meeting at home to Frosinone, with the opportunity to rest more established players against the side sitting 13th in Serie A.

Striker Victor Osimhen is one of the players likely to sit out, with either Simeone or Giacomo Raspadori coming in to deputise.

Piotr Zielinski, Mathias Olivera and Eljif Elmas all missed the recent meeting with Cagliari, but Mario Rui could return.

Frosinone boss Eusebio di Francesco called on his side to be more clinical in front of goal against the champions after they went down 2-1 to Lecce on Saturday.

“We have to be a little more concrete and, when the team plays interesting patterns, it’s good,” he said.

“But we have to be more determined and aggressive in front of goal.”

Napoli put an end to a jittery start under new coach Walter Mazzarri as their 2-0 victory over Braga confirmed their place in the Champions League knockout stage.

Three successive defeats since Mazzarri took over from Rudi Garcia may have knocked confidence but the hosts knew they needed only a draw to prevent their opponents snatching second place in Group C from them.

They could even have afforded a one-goal defeat, as their head-to-head record was superior courtesy of the 2-1 win in Portugal, but a ninth-minute Serdar Saatci own goal was the perfect morale boost for a side which had won just once in the last six games.

A quickly-taken throw allowed Matteo Politano to break into the right side of the penalty area and his low cut-back was intended for Victor Osimhen.

However, Saatci’s awkward attempted to block the cross only diverted the ball into the ground, up onto the underside of the crossbar and down over the line.

Stung by the early goal Ricardo Horta forced Alex Meret to tip a shot onto the crossbar, while Braga goalkeeper Matheus Magalhaes also denied Piotr Zielinski at his near post.

Osimhen had flown in from Morocco, where he had won African Player of the Year, and he celebrated beating Mohamed Salah to the award by adding Napoli’s second in the 33rd minute.

Natan, a centre-back filling in on the left, surged forward and having found space in the penalty area crossed for the Nigeria international.

The ball was behind Osimhen but his attempted drag-back diverted it goalwards via his standing leg from six yards and although Matheus got a hand to it he could not prevent it crossing the line.

Braga’s goalkeeper was the busier as he tipped over Politano’s left-footed curler and denied Osimhen a second.

Horta hit the foot of a post with 11 minutes to go but with Real Madrid coming back to beat Union Berlin late on, Braga’s consolation prize was a place in the Europa League.

Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri has challenged his players to rectify the club’s wretched recent results against rivals Napoli to move top of the Serie A table.

Juve have lost five of their past seven league meetings with the reigning champions, including a 5-1 thrashing in January, but are favourites for Friday evening’s clash at Allianz Stadium.

The in-form Bianconeri sit second in the table and will climb above leaders Inter Milan for at least 24 hours by registering an 11th victory of the season.

Fifth-placed Napoli are struggling to mount a title defence and, having last month reappointed former boss Walter Mazzarri after sacking Rudi Garcia, slipped 11 points adrift of Inter following a 3-0 home loss to them on Sunday.

“Tomorrow will be very tough,” Allegri told a press conference.

“Napoli stayed in the game against Inter until the second goal and we’ve only beaten them once in our last seven meetings – that’s something we need to put right.

“They’re a dangerous side away from home and have picked up 17 points on the road already.”

Juventus are just two points behind Inter, with whom they drew 1-1 on November 26, following a nine-match unbeaten run.

Allegri wants a minimum of six points from Juve’s next five fixtures to ensure the club reach the halfway point of the campaign in a stronger position than last term.

“This is a six-pointer – we have five games left before we reach the midway point of the season and they’ll all be difficult,” said Allegri, whose side finished a disappointing 2022-23 campaign in seventh position.

“Our target is to finish the first half of the campaign with more points than we did last term, when we had 38.

“We hope to achieve our target but we mustn’t take it for granted.

“Part of this job involves dealing with the pressure but we have to remember the league doesn’t finish tomorrow. There’s still a long way to go.”

Mazzarri, who initially managed Napoli between 2009 and 2013, beat Atalanta 2-1 in the first match of his second spell before the resounding loss to Inter.

The 62-year-old hopes his team can kick-start a revival by beating one of their fiercest rivals.

“Juventus v Napoli is a match that we know well because of the special sensations it generates and the importance of two teams that have been protagonists of the championship in recent years,” he told a press conference.

“We are playing against an opponent who is doing very well and there is little to add about the depth of the match.

“We go there as Italian champions and we want to highlight the progress that the boys are making.

“If we look at the squads, I don’t think there is as much of a difference as the league table says. This is also true compared to Inter.

“Unfortunately in football there are also moments and this is not a brilliant period for Napoli, especially in relation to the great last season.

“In football sometimes it doesn’t take much to make a change, it’s a question of trust but also of luck.

“There are moments which are going badly but a positive episode can change the wind.”

Victor Osimhen’s suitors are running out of time to capture the Napoli hitman as president Aurelio De Laurentiis has revealed the Nigerian is close to agreeing a new contract.

Osimhen, 24, has lit up Serie A since arriving in Naples from Lille in July 2020, with his greatest achievement so far scoring 31 league goals as the Azzurri clinched a long-overdue Scudetto last season.

Arsenal, Chelsea and Real Madrid are reportedly among the clubs keen to fire up their forward lines with the recruitment of Osimhen, who remains hot property despite enduring an injury-ravaged 2023-24 campaign so far.

While a future move to the Premier League or LaLiga is still entirely possible, De Laurentiis on Saturday revealed Osimhen is on the verge of agreeing a new deal at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.

He told Gazzetta ahead of Sunday’s clash with Inter Milan: “With Osimhen we are at the stage of signing the contract, the one that has been left pending since last summer.”

Napoli’s other superstar is Kvicha Kvaratskhelia, who has made a huge impression since making his unheralded switch from Dinamo Batumi last year.

De Laurentiis is even less concerned about the Georgia winger departing Napoli, though, adding: “Kvaratskhelia still has a four-year contract, what’s the point of asking about him now? Let’s try not to be too negative.”

On the showdown with Inter, which continues a baptism of fire for new boss Walter Mazzarri, De Laurentiis said: “We don’t have a left-back. Two are out injured.

“Then we have a new coach, to whom we have given a huge responsibility, because he has had to immediately face Atalanta and Real Madrid. Now we have another tour de force as we play Inter and then Juventus.

“Are two days enough to prepare for Inter, without two full-backs? It seems a bit difficult to me. Then five days to prepare for Juventus… we have to lay all our problems out on the table so we can be objective about them.”

Alessandro Zanoli will face a late check before the match while left-backs Mario Rui and Mathias Olivera are out for three weeks and two months respectively. On Inter’s treatment table are defenders Benjamin Pavard and Alessandro Bastoni.

Elif Elmas’ goal got Walter Mazzarri’s return to Napoli off to a winning start after his side beat Atalanta 2-1 in Serie A

Napoli took the lead through Khvicha Kvaratskhelia just before half-time and a frenetic period followed as both sides had a flurry of chances before the break.

Ademola Lookman levelled for Atalanta in a dominant second half for the hosts, but a mistake at the back allowed Elmas to score a winner in the 79th minute.

Three points moved Napoli third in Serie A ahead of AC Milan’s match later on Saturday, while Atalanta dropped to sixth.

Mario Pasalic had the first real chance 20 minutes with a great header from a free-kick, but Pierluigi Gollini made a strong low dive to his left to save.

There was worry for Atalanta just before the half-hour mark as Davide Zappacosta limped off the pitch and was eventually substituted for Hans Hateboer.

Napoli found the net in the 33rd minute when Giacomo Raspadori’s curling cross picked out Amir Rrahmani, who looped a header into the top corner but the goal was disallowed for offside.

The visitors were then also forced into an early change as Mathias Olivera went down in pain after slipping on the pitch and was subsequently carried off on a stretcher in the 38th minute.

Napoli took the lead in the 44th minute after a great cross from Giovanni Di Lorenzo found Kvaratskhelia bursting forward, leaving Marco Carnesecchi no chance as the Georgian’s powerful header flew past him.

The chances suddenly came thick and fast as Atalanta nearly pulled one back moments later when Hateboer found Teun Koopmeiners running at the back post, but Gollini made a fine save to claw away the danger.

The visitors nearly doubled their advantage before the break when Piotr Zielinski forced Carnesecchi into a brilliant fingertip save before Di Lorenzo’s follow-up was cleared and the ball then fell to Matteo Politano, but his first-time strike was denied by a sliding block from Pasalic.

A change in momentum saw Atalanta level in the 53rd minute after Hateboer crossed into the box and Lookman flicked a header into the bottom left corner.

They continued to threaten and found the net in the 67th with a brilliant team move finished by Pasalic, but the goal was ruled out for offside.

Koopmeiners then had an effort blocked by the visiting defence before Charles de Ketelaere’s strike curled around the post.

However, a poor clearance from Carnesecchi allowed Napoli to retake the lead as the ball fell to Victor Osimhen, who did well to tap it through to Elmas and the midfielder rolled the ball into the bottom corner.

Atalanta had a tame penalty shout waved away in the final stages when Luis Muriel was challenged by Di Lorenzo and Napoli were able to hold on in stoppage time.

Walter Mazzarri has been named as the new manager of Napoli.

The experienced 62-year-old replaces Rudi Garcia, who lasted only five months in the role.

The Serie A champions have struggled in their title defence, winning only six of their 12 matches, and sit 10 points behind leaders Inter Milan.

Napoli revealed the news in a brief post on social media, saying: “Walter Mazzarri is the new coach of Napoli. Welcome back Mister.”

Mazzarri has huge experience in Serie A, including coaching Napoli from 2009 to 2013.

It was a successful tenure, with Napoli qualifying for the Champions League for the first time, winning the Coppa Italia and finishing second in Serie A in his final season.

His most recent job came at Cagliari but he lasted less than a year, leaving in May 2022 with the club on the brink of relegation.

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