On Saturday 8th August, Barcelona vs Napoli always promised to be a tense game. Though the blaugranas went through 4–2 on aggregate, a poor second half left a lot of culés uncertain about progressing further into the competition. In the next round, Barça will face an impressive Bayern side and will need to show they can play a more consistent 90 minutes if they hope to win.
After a poor season, Barcelona hope to redeem themselves by bring home Europe’s most prestigious trophy. Napoli were always going to be a difficult test with the quality players throughout their team. But, after the 1–1 draw in the first leg back in February, Barça needed to come out victorious at the Camp Nou on Saturday if they wanted to progress into the Champions League quarter-finals.
In the first half, the home team was clinical in front of goal. They looked sharp after a disappointing La Liga campaign. However, the second period saw a completely different Barça emerge. It was like watching a training match with some poor passing, a lack of urgency and very little attacking threat. The Italian side dominated and intimidated more, and in the end, the locals needed a little luck to make sure they went through by two goals.
The first half
The first half of the Barcelona vs Napoli was a great game to watch, especially for cules. The Spanish giants came out looking to play football and, most importantly, took their chances in front of goal. Clément Lenglet, who has had another solid season, opened the scoring with a fantastic header from a corner. This seemed to give Barça some confidence as they grew into the game and played some clever football. Lionel Messi then had his say on the game, scoring an incredible solo effort by beating several defenders and finishing into the far corner after 23 minutes.
Unfortunately, the Argentine’s second goal was cruelly disallowed by VAR after it brushed his arm. Frenkie de Jong, who was a standout performer all game, had beautifully picked out Messi in the box and the number 10 controlled the pass before putting it in the roof of the net.
“The team played well and deserved the victory. They caused us problems, but we controlled the game in the first half”
Not long before the break, the hosts were awarded a penalty after Messi stole the ball from Koulibaly, who accidentally fouled Barça’s captain. Luis Suárez scored the penalty brilliantly after Leo looked unable to take it after a bad knock. A minute before half-time, Gil Azzurri were given a lifeline when Iván Rakitić gave away a penalty on Dries Mertens. This did unsettle fans as Napoli now had a crucial away goal.
“Napoli are one of the best Italian teams. We knew how to deal with them in the first half”
Overall, the first half showed a lot of promise with the home team performing well. Messi looked well rested and was a constant threat. In midfield, Frenkie controlled the game and seemed to be everywhere on the pitch. Both Nélson Semedo and Lenglet also put in strong performances. Nonetheless, VAR had a questionable evening. In the first half alone, it took over seven minutes to decide just two decisions – Messi’s disallowed goal and the penalty on him. It slowed the game down too much.
The second half
With a 3–1 lead at the break, Barcelona should have been able to go on and control the game against Napoli. Instead, a slow and lethargic team reappeared, something all too familiar this season. At times, the team struggled to retain the ball for extended periods. A lack of control from the midfield and support in attack were two of the main issues. An isolated duo of Messi and Suárez could be seen for most of the second period. There was a lack of urgency and tempo in the azulgranas. They should have continued to grow into the match and put on a show, but this was not the case.
Napoli spent more time in Barça’s half after half-time | Photo by David Ramos via Getty Images
Napoli performed well and were unlucky not to score more goals on the night. It highlighted that Barcelona can play well for periods of the game but are unable to maintain it for the full 90 minutes. After half-time, the Catalans looked short of ideas and understanding of the instructions that had been given to them. There are big questions again over the manager’s choice of substitutions, or lack of.
Barça clearly needed fresh legs in both midfield and attack, but none came until Barça B midfielder Monchu was introduced after 84 minutes for his debut. Moreover, Quique Seitén only used two out of a possible five substitutions even though the players were clearly struggling to control the game. In the end, the blaugranas managed to qualify for the next round convincingly enough. Notwithstanding, they will need to raise their level by Friday 14th August when they face one of the favourites, Bayern Munich.
The Barcelona vs Napoli clearly was a game of two halves. In the first 45 minutes, the home side was dominant, clinical, driven and energetic. They showed a vast improvement to some of the previous La Liga fixtures and the players looked rested. The second half, though, was a complete turnaround with the performance levels dropping for a few players.
Fatigue obviously set in midway through the second half and this is when substitutions were desperately needed, but never happened. The first period showed a lot of promise and gave hope to culés. On the other hand, the second half left a lot to be desired as the team struggled into the next round of the Champions League. Bayern will be favourites in the tie, but there is still a chance for the Spanish side if they can come closer to what was seen in the first rather than the second half against Napoli.
Player Ratings: Elche 0-2 Barcelona
With four wins in on the trot in the league, Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona marches on in the hope of overtaking Real Madrid who sit second, three points clear of the Garnet and Blue. Last night’s game against Elche was proof that Barça have what it takes to grind out wins in important games, even if their performance is less than convincing.
A goal each from Frenkie de Jong and Riqui Puig was enough to etch a 0-2 win for the visitors who will now travel to Madrid to lock horns against Rayo Vallecano in the Copa del Rey round of 16. Meanwhile, Barça Universal runs the rule over the Blaugranas.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen: 8
Barcelona’s captain without the armband continues to come up clutch for Barcelona in the six-yard-box, making stellar saves with each passing game. Yesterday, while the German made only two stops, one of them came post the 75th minute in a high-xG 1v1 scenario.
Oscar Mingueza: 7
Starting in unfamiliar territory, Mingueza coped well with the pressure at right-back. He was solid in the first half and did not let anyone go past him. Additionally, he did well in the attack, continuously whipping in crosses, although with little success. Had an error covered up by ter Stegen, but a solid display nonetheless.
Ronald Araujo: 7.5
Words have started to fall short for Araujo, who, yet again, was on his toes, ready to rescue Barcelona with each passing attack. The Uruguayan won three fouls while committing one himself, and lost possession only 4 times.
Samuel Umtiti: 8
Following his display against Granada, Umtiti got a well-deserved start after two weeks, and was pretty much faultless. A bit conservative in possession, the World Cup winner still managed to create one chance. Without the ball, he was a rock, and nobody was able to get past him on the night.
Jordi Alba: 6.5
The run of underwhelming displays continues for Jordi Alba, who ghosted on the night against Elche, especially in the attack. Did well out of possession, though, making two interceptions, one tackle, and a solitary clearance.
Frenkie de Jong: 9
De Jong woke up and chose violence. He started the game in amazing fashion, progressing the ball immaculately. Got a goal for his rewards, and then etched an assist to his name in the last few minutes, as well, with the most perfectly timed run and pass. Continues to be sensational.
Sergio Busquets: 8
Busquets has started to hold his own in the centre of the park in this formation and had another evening where he was nearly back to his best. The Spaniard conducted the midfield with ease, not allowing the Elche midfield to have the sniff of the ball. Additionally, he also managed to create one chance. Picked up a suspension, though, and will miss the outing against Bilbao.
At just 18, Pedri continues to astound the Barcelona fans, four-folding his standards with each passing game. Yesterday, as well, he made four key passes, completed all his dribbles (4/4), and won two set-pieces. Would have been a perfect night had he gotten an assist, only to be denied by his own overhit passes on two occasions.
Ousmane Dembele: 6
The attack was inarguably the most underwhelming part of Barcelona’s game last night, and understandably so, after playing an insane number of minutes in the past week. Dembele tried his best to get past the Elche defence, but with little to no success, as they stood firmly in place. Additionally, he lost possession a bizarre 21 times in just 74 minutes.
Antoine Griezmann: 6
Griezmann played through the centre on the night, as opposed to the left, where he has been deployed of late. Barring a single key pass for Araujo, the Frenchman did not do a lot, either. He made two great runs, but was denied a shot through poor communication between him and Pedri.
Martin Braithwaite: 6
Rounding off the lineup was Martin Braithwaite, starting on the left. Can be given credit for creating the goal through a brilliant cross, but was otherwise slow in possession, and unable to think on his feet.
Fransisco Trincao: 7
Credit where credit is due, this was probably Trincao’s best cameo for Barcelona. Just when it looked like Barcelona were getting hit back, the Portuguese brought freshness to the wing, and even hit two shots on target. Unfortunately for him, Edgar Badia pulled off two superhuman efforts to deny both his chances.
Riqui Puig: 7
The man of the hour!
Ideally, playing just five minutes would not amount to a 7/10 rating, but Puig practically sealed the game for Barcelona in the 89th minute, meeting de Jong’s cross over two defenders, and scoring his first-ever senior goal. A night he will never forget.