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.
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.