Memories of Argentine greats Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi and their contributions to Napoli and Barcelona will fire up the Europa League tie between the two clubs on Thursday, Barca coach Xavi Hernandez said on Wednesday.
Maradona, who died in November 2020, and Messi, who left Barcelona for Paris St Germain last August, remain symbols of the greatest eras in the two clubs’ histories.
“It’s an extra motivation,” Xavi told a news conference on Wednesday, ahead of the second leg of their playoff in Naples, after a 1-1 draw in the first leg at the Camp Nou.
“It’s an honour to play at the Diego Armando Maradona stadium in Naples. He was a reference for everyone, I keep watching videos of him and it still gets me excited.
“If it wasn’t for Messi, Maradona would be the best to ever play our game. He was, without a doubt, the best of his time. It is a responsibility and an honour to play here.”
Barcelona have looked much improved since the arrival of their former midfielder and captain as manager in November, after struggling at the start of the campaign in the wake of the departure of talisman Messi.
After being knocked out of the Champions League and Copa del Rey and 15 points behind LaLiga leaders Real Madrid, the Europa League is practically their last hope to salvage their season.
“In our current situation, every match is like a final for us,” Xavi said.
“We should have won the first leg. Now we will play it all on their field. It’s another final and we’re going for it. We are motivated and eager to show that we can compete.”