Mixed feelings for the overall display, but the result was more than good enough; these are the ratings for each Barcelona player in the 3–1 victory over Napoli in the second leg of the Champions League last 16.
Excellent result and proficient performance from the club that seemed done and dusted a few weeks ago. While it would be fair to label the match as a tale of two halves with Barça losing the momentum it had built almost completely in the second period, the blaugranas still managed to complete the daunting task of eliminating Gennaro Gattuso’s Napoli as they now face Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Here’s how the Barcelona players fared in their victory against Napoli:
Marc-André ter Stegen: 7/10
As dominant as Napoli were, Ter Stegen was not tested as frequently in goal since the defence in front of him maintained incredible composure. While he was unfortunate to have conceded a penalty, which denied him from securing a well-earned clean sheet, the German’s ball distribution was marvellous and was a major factor in allowing the blaugranas to play against the Napoli pressure with comfort.
Nélson Semedo: 8/10
With Barcelona lacking a reliable figure at right-back, Nélson Semedo put in an absolute shift to silence many doubters. The Portuguese was utterly incredible in the first half, where he was seen taking on all the Napoli players and creating innumerable dangerous attacks by himself. Throwing shades of a certain Brazilian, he kept Lorenzo Insigne out of the game smoothly. Although in the second half he had his defensive work cut out with Insigne having a good half, Semedo stayed firm in his defence and didn’t allow the Italian wizard to get into prominent goalscoring positions.
One of Semedo’s best performances this season | Photo by David Ramos via Getty Images
Gerard Piqué: 7.5/10
Piqué proved to be the towering figure in the box and broke down any Napoli offence that came through the air. Nevertheless, a costly semi-error very early in the game almost gave the Gli Azzurri a goal which would have been absolutely catastrophic for the azulgranas.
Clément Lenglet: 8.5/10
Barcelona couldn’t have asked for a better successor to Samuel Umtiti. Clément Lenglet showcased a complete defensive masterclass where he was winning tackles, blocking shots and basically not letting the Neapolitans have any real look at goal. On the other end, he scored a brilliant header from a corner to initiate a flurry of goals for the culés. A memorable performance from the upcoming French defensive star.
Jordi Alba: 7/10
Jordi Alba fulfilled his role well, though was barely challenged by José Callejón on his wing, which didn’t allow him to be as defensively involved. However, he had several good sequences of short passing with the midfielders and looked to link up well with the attack. A version of Alba where he is in unison with the attack is a dangerous sight for any upcoming opponents.
Frenkie de Jong: 8.5/10
Dancing in balletic fashion with the ball at his feet, Frenkie de Jong was simply a cut above everyone else. Marred with an injury that ruled him out in La Liga after the restart, De Jong’s comeback was worthy of endless admiration. The Dutchman controlled the pace of the game, dominating almost every part of the pitch and marking his territory whenever he went. A highlight play for him was when he effortlessly sent Messi a stunning ball which Lionel Messi ended up converting, only for it to be ruled out due to a questionable call made from VAR. The Frenkie fiesta was a sight to savour.
Iván Rakitić: 7/10
Iván Rakitić was tasked to occupy the pivot role in Sergio Busquets’ absence, which he played somewhat successfully. Rakitić made some vital tackles as his defensive contribution was noticeable throughout the game, even earning himself an assist for Lenglet’s header. Nonetheless, a needless foul in the final third saw him give away a penalty, which the Italians were able to capitalise on. While the Croatian midfielder did a decent job, Busquets‘ shoes proved to be too big to fill.
Sergi Roberto: 7/10
Sergi Roberto’s performance will go unnoticed by many, but he put in a diligent exhibition with his work ethic helping Barcelona constantly regain possession and move upfield. The Catalan played a valiant role in midfield, despite De Jong stealing all the limelight
Antoine Griezmann: 5.5/10
Although Antoine Griezmann showed glimpses of his undoubted quality, the Frenchman seemed to be snoozing for a majority of the game as his presence was rarely felt. He, as always, managed to be an asset with his work ethic, even so, Griezmann failed to link up with his partners in attack and couldn’t challenge goalkeeper David Ospina on a regular basis. For a player worth 120 million, such standards cannot be set.
Lionel Messi: 9/10
The menacing man was the centre of attention throughout the 90 minutes, mainly in the first half, where he ran riot in attack. Napoli struggled to keep him at bay as he scored an excellently executed goal to broaden the local’s lead. Stumbling and failing to keep his balance in Napoli’s tightly congested box, he left Ospina for dead, scoring a marvellous curler.
Despite an injury scare, no one or nothing could stop Lionel Messi | Photo by Lluís Gené / AFP via Getty Images
Leo went onto wreak further havoc with another goal, but lady luck showed her true colours, preventing Leo from bagging what seemed to be a fair goal. A foul right before the half-time whistle enabled him to win his side a penalty, which Luis Suárez converted with ease.
Luis Suárez: 7/10
Nothing too special, but nothing too discouraging either, which should be perceived as a big win considering Suárez had looked exceedingly shaky since the restart. The Uruguayan scored from the spot and was efficient with his first touch, providing a degree of threat in attack. The goal would do a world of good for his confidence.
Three talking points from Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona
In the final edition of El Clásico in the 2020/21 domestic campaign, Barcelona incurred their fifth defeat of the league campaign. It was end-to-end stuff in the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium, as an exceptional first-half performance from the hosts was followed up by a tantalizing second from Barça.
This game had everything someone could ask for in a Clásico. There was controversy, passion, goals and for the first time in a few years, a red card was the cherry on the top. These are Barca Universal’s takeaways from the game in the capital.
Real Madrid’s efficiency on show
With four shots on target, 1.58 Expected Goals, and two goals to their name, Real Madrid put to show their sheer efficacy in front of goal, as well as in defence. For the first half at least, Zinédine Zidane’s men were always at the right place, at the right time making all the right movements and to devastating effect.
Los Blancos‘ philosophy is one of winning, and doing so regardless of how the victory is earned. Contrary to the Catalans, who not only need to win, but also do it a certain way, Los Merengues are more than capable of abandoning their usually proactive approach to games in favour of a more reactive one. The fact that they are not bound to a specific ideology makes winning matches one of the simplest of tasks.
They held the ball for only 32% of the game, which goes completely against what a majority would expect them to. At the end of the day, however, possession matters significantly less than what one does with it. With every lapse in concentration from the Garnet and Blue, Madrid had enough men forward, and well enough positioned, to hit them where it hurt.
Despite the relatively low xG, they had enough big chances to even lead 4-0 come the halftime whistle. When it came to defending, their tight-knit defence, in stark contrast to that of their rivals, barely broke a sweat. They imposed an impenetrable low block, and applied a collective press to force as many errors as they could.
In addition to this, Zidane has the luxury of having a starting eleven of devastatingly versatile footballers in his arsenal. Fede Valverde for instance was as much a right-back as he was a central midfielder and a winger. He executed each role to pristine perfection, and so did his peers to ensure all 3 points, and bragging rights stayed in Madrid.
Excellent mentality shift
Following such a harrowing performance in the first half, few, if any, could have expected Barcelona to mount a comeback. Had this been any other team, that would have been possible, but given Real Madrid’s first-half performance, this was all but envisageable.
Indeed, the Catalans did fail to get any points from the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium, however, the sheer mentality they showed in the second half was a sight for sore eyes. Ronald Koeman made the necessary adjustments to the side, reverting to the 4-3-3 and with it, they wrought trouble in the Madrid backline.
Lionel Messi celebrating the goal. pic.twitter.com/ZX1HzWSqAR— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) April 10, 2021
If in the first half Barça seemed caged in endless cycles of worthless possession, then in the second they made thorough use of it. The Blaugrana created eleven chances for themselves in the second period, and while doing this, they in turn limited Los Blancos to just a single shot on goal for the entirety of the half; a complete turnover from their performance in the opening 45 minutes.
It was nail-biting stuff up until the final second of the game, as Ilaix Moriba’s volleyed effort struck the underside of the crossbar. Given the overall performance from both sides, a draw would have been a considerably fairer result, but even in defeat with this version of Barça, the players and fans know that they can keep their heads held high.
A game of fine margins
Games of the magnitude of El Clásico will forever be decided by the most minute of details and the same was the case here.
The first significant one was the frame of the goal. In the first half, following the umpteenth counter attack from Real Madrid, Fede Valverde, who up until then was having yet another phenomenal showing against Barcelona, struck the frame of the post with a shot that crucially bounced underneath Sergio Busquets.
In the second half, Ronald Araújo nearly scored an own goal, but with Ter Stegen rooted to the spot, the ball rolled delicately onto the post and out for a corner. In the final minute of the match, and with Madrid fighting for their lives, Ilaix Moriba struck the underside of the crossbar to end this sensational tie on an emotional high.
Jordi Alba has often been criticized for being just as much a blessing offensively as he is a curse defensively. In the build-up to the hosts’ opener, he had one task to fulfill: mark his opposing fullback. This is one he absolutely failed, as he drifted too far inside, and by the time he had noticed his error, Lucas Vázquez already had Karim Benzema in his sights. Too little, too late.
The final significant detail was in the goal that won Los Blancos the game. After what many consider a poorly given free-kick from the referee’s standpoint, Toni Kroos surely could not believe his eyes when he saw the sheer state of Barça’s wall. Marc André Ter Stegen’s poor leadership of his defenders left him utterly vulnerable, and his German counterpart spared him no blushes, slotting it home to seal the victory for his side.