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.
Debating on Barça’s victory over Villarreal
Barcelona managed to get their first win of the season against Villarreal. Our editors share their perspectives on the game, and choose their man of the match.
by Nassif Muhammed Ali
Barcelona has begun the new season well. In a league season where each team plays thirty-eight matches, across a period of eight or nine months, beginning well doesn’t always count for much. However, when one takes into consideration the circumstances that this team had to maneuver through in the run-up to this game and this new season, it is more than obvious that the four-nil victory last night was anything but an easy feat; that too against Villareal, who finished fifth in the league table last season.
The team has had a good pre-season, in which the new manager Ronald Koeman tried to bring in a different formation. However, there has been a cloud of pessimism altogether even as the new La Liga season was underway. One of the major concerns was with regard to the attempted rebuild of the squad. The club has already let go of a few stalwarts. Even as most of these departures were necessary both in terms of the sporting project and the financial situation, there was one important question being thrown about – how would they replace the thirty plus goals that Luis Suarez and Arturo Vidal contributed last season. As it turns out, indications are that they already have the players to do just that.
Barcelona dominated the game yesterday and in doing so, they also brought back two important elements that have been uncharacteristically missing from their gameplay for the last two seasons. Firstly, there have been several instances in the recent past where they led by a couple of goals only to take their foot off the pedal and concede points at the end of the day. Yesterday, they were ahead by two goals within twenty minutes. And then, rather than slowing down, they went on to double that lead by the end of the first half. Another important factor was the number of available players involved in the offensive moves. At any given offensive move, including the counter-attacks, there were plenty of Blaugrana shirts available as options. Koeman’s modified formation passed its first test, quite successfully.
The biggest take away from this match, in my opinion, is the fact that it afforded good playing time to young debutants Francisco Trincao and Pedri – both of whom made the most of the opportunity. Barca might go ahead and reinforce their squad further in the few days that remain in the transfer window – they need to, especially in the defense. But make no mistake; there is enough talent in this squad already to make it an exciting season.
Stand-out performer: Ansu Fati
It was predicted to be a closely fought game. But two classy finishes from the young Spaniard all but killed the game within twenty minutes. Fati’s finishing was stellar – the first was a one-touch shot at the top corner, whereas the second a guided placement. Even the penalty that led to Barca’s third goal was actually won by a dribbling Fati, who was clipped down inside the box. Apart from the goals, Fati also made some key passes, including the beautiful lob that he gave to Messi in the 49th minute, from a close-range, above two defenders. With the most number of completed dribbles in the game (3), and a solid 10 touches inside the opponents’ box, Fati celebrated his official promotion to the first team in style. The ceiling is high for this kid and he has a long way to go, but it does look like he is on the right path.
Photo by David Ramirez via Imago
Unexpectedly pleasing start to the campaign
by Prajas Naik
Ronald Koeman’s first official game as a Barça manager went off to a flying a start with the team 4-0 up by the time they reached half time. There was more intensity in the team pressing than that seen under both Ernesto Valverde and Quique Setien. Everyone was giving their level best and the team played brilliantly. The team looked confident going forward and the transitions were simple and fluid. But the right side did not see much of the ball, and this could be a major cause for concern if the arrival of Dest fails to go through.
The team dropped off in the second half but were it not for Asenjo, the Blaugrana could easily have scored more. Even though its too early to judge, the signs were very positive and it feels like then the attack is somewhat rejuvenated with all of the options the team has. But the defense continues to be a grey area and despite a good performance from both center halves, you can’t help but feel like some better finishing could have made the game a tighter affair.
Stand-out performer: Ansu Fati
Who else can it be? The seventeen-year-old prodigy ran riots down that left flank alongside a revived Jordi Alba. Always looking extremely confident on the ball, Ansu showed maturity and calmness well beyond his age. Many questioned how Barcelona will cope with the departure of Luis Suarez, but if Ansu continues to perform at this level, the future is indeed very bright.