A terrible first half that gradually improved to turn into a decent second half. A good result considering our experiences away from home but bad decisions in the final minutes. 5 takeaways from the Napoli 1-1 Barcelona.
If we review the previous away games in the UEFA Champions League we can realize that we had only won 1 of the last 8 matches. A real disaster in the best club-level tournament in the world. Today we expected that history would be repeated after a first-half were Barcelona lacked conviction. Fortunately, the approach was changing and improving since the beginning of the second half, where the culés were able to score and generate enough danger to fight in this tie. The match was going to end in a fair 1-1 or even a victory for the Catalans until in the last 10 minutes everything went black for the team with some awful player decisions. Even so, we got a good result and good learning. 5 takeaways from the Napoli 1-1 Barcelona.
1. Barça found a player who can score away from home in the UCL.
To score a goal away from home is a huge challenge for the Azulgranas, especially in the Champions League. In this European tournament, if there is something that plays a big factor, it is the stadium where you play, for some reason the visitor goal rule exist. Anfield, Rome, Juventus … in all of those matches we had huge difficulties to score, but the problem wasn’t only that we didn’t score. It’s much more complex than that. Playing outside the Camp Nou has deprived goalscorers like Suárez or Neymar of being able to score a simple goal, something they do week after week. But the problem was even worse, it wasn’t just the scorers but the whole team except for Messi. The Argentine has been the only player from Barcelona who has scored as a visitor in the UCL knockout stage since 2015 (Neymar vs Bayern Munich). This disappointing streak ended at the San Paolo stadium. Where finally a player takes that weight off to Lionel.
Griezmann becomes that player who scores as a visitor in the UCL knockout stage since 2015. It took approximately 5 years for something like this to happen. Depressing. We’re talking about that the Frenchman has more goals than Suárez in this stage since then. For some reason, we have failed to reach the finals of this competition in recent years. The dependence on Messi is overwhelming to the point that it does something negative when it just doesn’t have to be that way. It’s okay to take advantage of his talent but not rely solely on it. Yesterday Antoine showed that FC Barcelona is more than the Messi FC of the past seasons. The petit prince in the first half was completely lost. After the match, he acknowledged that his game in the positioning was horrendous. However, he improved notably in the second 45 minutes to score that goal. Let’s continue with the rest of the takeaways from the Napoli vs Barcelona game.
2. ‘El Clasico’ is the priority for the team
To say that Barcelona discredited Napoli to give importance to ‘El Clasico’ sounds crazy, but seeing the approaches of the game is logical what their expectations were. Rest Lenglet so that Umtiti plays, rest Fati and Arthur to put more physical players like Vidal and Rakitic, all these are signs that this match was one of rotation for the match against the ‘Merengues’. If we take into account that there are not many players that Setién can use then this idea is taking more form.
Barça wasn’t too lucky to face the two clubs in the same week. The match against Real Madrid is a La Liga final in a nutshell, the one who wins would practically secure the title of the Spanish championship unless something strange happens. But underestimating the rival was an option? No, we are very weak of visitors and risking the Champions League that way is dangerous. However, the plan went well. A good result and the players rested for Sunday’s game. The Blaugranas are ready to face Zidane’s team.
3. Quique Setién’s changes have to be on time
In the starting XI, Setién preferred to use Arturo Vidal and Rakitic over Arthur and Ansu Fati. It wasn’t the most appropriate lineup for an away game but the administration with the changes was even worse. After a depressing first half of Rakitic, Arthur should have replaced him at the beginning of the second half. But it wasn’t like that. It took about 10 minutes for the Brazilian to enter and in a matter of seconds, he participated in the play of the only goal of the Blaugranas. They had to spend several minutes later so that in the 87th minute Ansu Fati entered for Griezmann and the last change of the match was mandatory due to Piqué’s injury. Change management is something that can affect the final result.
It’s clear that Quique Setién has an excellent reading of the game and his knowledge in this sport is above the average of the great coaches. That’s why is rare this complaint with the late changes. The change of Ansu Fati was necessary at the beginning of the second half. The impenetrable defense of Napoli constantly left spaces on both sides but we didn’t have a winger to open those spaces to generate explosive plays. We had Messi who did a great job in that regard but this work was necessary on both sides. That’s why Fati’s change was exaggeratedly late. If his incorporation had been a few minutes before I don’t say that we would have won the match but the chances of scoring were higher given the circumstances of the match. One of the most important takeaways from the Napoli vs Barcelona.
4. The result at Stadio San Paolo was neither good nor bad
After the 5-0 victory over Eibar with a Messi Poker, a great performance was expected in Naples. In addition, Napoli is far from its best version, something that reinforces the idea of being able to win with great ease. However, poor dynamics away from home in recent years at the UCL make this result not very bad after all. There were aspects that could be improved but others that could have been much worse. In addition, if we take into account the available players this result is more than meritorious and fair.
“At home, we will have more options. They have defended very well, but it is difficult for them to do so at the Camp Nou. We were afraid of the cons and we have solved them well. We have recovered the ball very quickly.”-Quique setién
In the Camp Nou, the tie will be easier than this. Although Busquets and Vidal won’t play, with the other players available and in a more favorable schedule, everything suggests that Barcelona will close this elimination next month. The pressure for the leadership of La Liga, El Clasico that is played on Sunday and the situation currently going on with the club with Bartomeu are factors that affected the mentality of the players. In a month with the calmest waters, with La Liga leadership with several points of advantage and with Jordi Alba and Roberto back, the players will feel mentally better for a duel of such magnitude.
5. The players deficit somehow is increasing
When we believed that we couldn’t have more absences in the dressing room we were wrong. It was not enough with Dembélé, Suárez, Alba, and Roberto, this list in one way or another is increasing. Piqué will be out for 1-2 weeks for an ankle injury in the final minutes of the game. Despite not being so serious, and being physically well, he will probably miss ‘El Clasico’. Vidal and Sergio Busquets are two other players who will be absent. Unlike the “3”, they were not injured so we don’t have to worry so much. However, the double yellow card of ‘King’ Arturo and the yellow cards accumulation of the ‘Octopus’ in Champions League discard these two to receive Napoli home.
The lack of players is not a surprise after the incompetent management of the club’s board. The heavyweights of the group have already expressed dissatisfaction with Bartomeu’s staff, including Messi, Piqué, and Busquets. It is a matter of time before this group of entrepreneurs leaves the team. At the moment Setién has more problems than solutions. There is no doubt that Lenglet-Umtiti will be the center-back couple that will play against Real Madrid but against Napoli, there are some doubts. Quique won’t count with Busquets and Vidal, two players who were important in this first leg. Taking into account that Arthur and De Jong will start the match, only Rakitic and Puig remain. We all have the illusion of seeing the young Spanish but the Croatian will play over him. Let’s not dream anymore. These were the 5 takeaways from the Napoli 1-1 Barcelona. Next fixture: El Clasico.
Barcelona player ratings vs Sevilla — Hosts unable to get past Mingueza, the wall
Turning headless chickens into mature students of the game turned out to be Ronald Koeman’s biggest achievement at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, where the Catalan giants had recently just suffered a disappointing loss. On the score-sheet, the margin may not have looked considerable, but on the field, Barcelona were pretty much untouchable, courtesy in large parts to the structural change made by Koeman.
A performance this cohesive and harmonized was much needed after the countless defeats Barça have suffered on the big stage. Everything Cules have strived to see in this team, was present, and while consistency has been the club’s biggest hurdle, this win undoubtedly holds a great deal of significance.
The Blaugranas have arguably exerted more energy in other games over the course of the campaign, but the spirit Barcelona lacked suddenly came to life. The pressing was in sync, every move was calculated and well crafted. Playing the Barcelona way in hostile territory against a team as dominant as Sevilla brought back life into a team devoid of wins in high magnitude encounters.
Marc-André Ter Stegen: 7
Ter Stegen oozed confidence as he came off his line and claimed the ball several times. Not only did he display composure, but the German rushed out of his box on one occasion to clear the ball and remove any danger that Sevilla’s potential attack possessed. With the exception of a poor pass, his distribution was immaculate. Even so, it must be admitted that the Sevilla forwards barely tested ter Stegen in goal with dangerous attempts on target.
Oscar Mingueza: 8.5
Oscar Mingueza was a vital reason as to why the Blaugrana defence was impenetrable. Piementa’s prodigy did not allow Lopetegui’s men to advance into any areas on the right side of the field. He won 6 out his 9 duels along winning 5 tackles, proving the 21-year-old’s precise ball-winning abilities remain crucial. Not to mention, his exceptional ball-playing ability enabled Barça to play with a high line thus applying further pressure on Sevilla.
Pique was the nail in the coffin to Barça’s counter-pressing strategies. The players would press the Sevilla Keeper and force him to heave the ball away, and this is where Pique’s aerial ability flourished, which particularly authorized the Catalans to regain possession. The Spanish veteran won 5 out of 7 of his aerial duels, thus showing his dominance in that area of play. His distribution was reliable as always and allowed the Catalans to retain a high defensive line at selected times.
The Frenchman is on route to recovering the form he once had, and this performance should do his confidence a world of good. Still prone to making errors, he dealt with Sevilla’s threat in a respectable manner. An improvement was observed in his ability to stay ahead of his man, which led to his positioning being marginally better. His second-half performance was key to the win as he stepped up after Pique and Ronald Araujo had to be subbed off. Lenglet must be appreciated for his tackling as they successfully neutralized a few well-structured attacks from the hosts.
Sergiño Dest: 7
Despite typically being perceived as a full-back, Ronald Koeman handed Dest the responsibility to play higher up the field as a right-wing-back. The American speedster enjoyed his new role with piercing runs behind Sevilla’s defence and looked a lot more explosive, with defensive cover behind him.
Sergino Dest vs Sevilla:— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) February 28, 2021
• Touches: 58
• Accurate passes: 36/42 (86%)
• Shots: 2
• Ground duels (won): 4 (2)
• Fouls won: 2
• Clearances: 2
• Interceptions: 2
— SofaScore pic.twitter.com/IjN74fDwhc
Dest launched a couple of promising crosses, but a major issue was that he shied away from entering 1v1 duels and instinctively looked to send in crosses. The US international also came oh-so-close to scoring after striking the post on one occasion.
Jordi Alba: 7.5
Similar to his wing-back partner in crime, Jordi Alba raided forward at any given opportunity, stretching the play wide and utilizing his raw pace throughout. Without having to worry about his defensive duties, the marauding Spaniard looked a lot more imposing. He was just inches away from tapping the ball into the opposition net after proceedings.
Frenkie de Jong: 8.5
De Jong’s season just proceeds to take massive leaps as the Dutchman proved to be a defining factor in the Catalans’ applaudable 2-0 victory. In spite of not stamping his name on the score-sheet, De Jong’s performance was worthy of endless praise, almost making it seem as if he was carrying around an extra pair of lungs. The former Ajax wonderboy surged forward, breaking the opposition’s lines tirelessly and constantly squirming his way out of tight areas.
Sergio Busquets: 7.5
The ageing veteran appeared to be recreating glimpses from the past as his counter-pressing was absolutely decisive in the Catalans’ attacking plays. Sergio Busquets – unlike most big game he has participated in – was not cheaply bullied off the ball and made possession purposeful for the Blaugranas. With defensive aid behind him, Busquets was back to his brilliant best.
The cog in Ronald Koeman’s midfield was once again a trusty figure in midfield and managed to string together some impressive plays in what appeared to be a 3-5-2 formation. Though Pedri’s involvement was substantially lower than usual, his display was mainly impeded by an injury he suffered in the 71st minute, disabling him from completing the full 90 minutes.
Lionel Messi: 8.5
Against his favourite opposition, Lionel Messi savoured the occasion to the fullest. The Argentine was an influential figure in the club’s victory away from home, with his creativity and efficiency in front of goal second to none. In the 29th minute of the game, Leo spotted a raiding Ousmane Dembélé through on goal as he bagged himself an assist for the Frenchman’s finish.
To cap off his outing, Barcelona’s captain weaved his way past a couple of Sevilla defenders and, after failing to chip the keeper, delicately slotted it into the net.
Ousmane Dembélé: 8
Sevilla were haplessly left chasing Ousmane Dembélé’s shadows. The Frenchman – without having to worry about his defensive tasks – waltzed forward continuously and enjoyed playing as a secondary striker, making runs in behind the defence and eventually proving his worth with a beautifully placed goal just before the half-hour mark. A much more mature and composed exhibition from the electric winger.
Ilaix Moriba: 7
Ronald Araujo: N/A
Martin Braithwaite: N/A
Samuel Umtiti: N/A