With all still to play for in the Barcelona vs Napoli, after a 1–1 draw in the first leg, the game promises to be a tense encounter. Both teams have had disappointing league campaigns and will be looking to end the season with a strong run in the Champions League. Therefore, what should Barҫa be looking to change from the initial meeting between the two teams?
Neither Barcelona nor Napoli has hit the standards that their fans have come to expect from them this season. The Catalan giants struggled to put in consistent performances and often looked void of ideas in creating chances. Napoli too ended their campaign 7th in Serie A, a poor finish for the squad at their disposal.
After more than five months, both teams will now meet again for the second leg of the Champions League last 16. At the San Paolo Stadium in February, a cagey 1–1 draw was played out. The blaugranas lacked clarity on how to break down Napoli’s well organised low block. With the return game scheduled on Saturday 8th August, Barҫa do have the away goal advantage. However, Quique Setién will be looking for a better performance this time around, especially with an on form Bayern Munich almost confirmed for the next round.
The first leg
The first leg on Barcelona vs Napoli was slightly disappointing in quality attacking football. Both of these sides have played some of the best free flowing football over the last decade. It seems though that this season the Spanish side has lost their spark and that clinical instinct. On the other hand, Napoli played a defensive low block that they do not normally use. Nevertheless, it was probably a clever choice from coach Gennaro Gattuso as so often this season the five-time European champions have struggled to unlock teams that play this style.
Napoli got the lead first at the Estadio San Paolo, which would be a dangerous scenario if it happened again at the Camp Nou | Photo by Michael Steele via Getty Images
A fantastic strike from outside of the box from Dries Mertens after 29 minutes gave the Italian side the lead. One poor touch from Junior Firpo led to the goal and highlighted just how dangerous Napoli can be when given a chance. The Barҫa players must remain focused throughout the full game as any mistake could be punished. In the 57th minute, Antoine Griezmann was the man to equalise through an assist from Nélson Semedo. A special mention for Sergio Busquets too for his defence splitting pass through to the Portuguese full-back.
What needs to change?
For the return leg of Barcelona vs Napoli, there are a number of changes that Quique Setién should try and make. Though his team are technically ahead by away goals, this does not mean they can sit back. The home team must look for more goals to secure the tie. It is likely that Gli Azzurri will start with a low block and look to counter Barcelona. If they need a goal later on then the game may open up and allow more space for Lionel Messi and others to attack.
“We know it’s going to be a very difficult game, but if you prepare for it, then you never know what can happen”
One of the issues for Barҫa, especially in the Champions League, is the over-reliance on Messi. The Argentinian has had to score the vast majority of the goals in the competition for a number of years now. Under Ernesto Valverde, Messi scored 19 goals in the Champions League, while the next top scorer from Barcelona was from own goals.
Others must take responsibility, either with the creativity or goalscoring. The captain cannot continue to do both. It is rumoured that Setién has told the number 10 to stay closer to the goals and not be so involved in the build-up play. This means the midfielders have to find Messi in dangerous positions and create space for him.
This leads onto the next important change that is needed, the line-up. With Sergio Busquets and Arturo Vidal suspended, and Arthur Melo not available, the midfield is short on options. Frenkie de Jong has returned from injury and will hopefully bring some much needed energy to the midfield. Notwithstanding, it is Riqui Puig that is the most essential player that needs to start for Barcelona in this encounter. When given the chance he has always excelled. His desire, positioning, ball progression and passing are all vital for the Spanish side. Currently, he deserves a starting role in midfield more than any other player.
The second leg of the Barcelona vs Napoli will be an exciting clash. Both teams will be desperate to progress deeper into the competition. The azulgranas have had a lot of time to improve since the first leg but not much has changed in terms of their performances. They still lack that creativity and struggle to open teams up the sit in a low block.
Though the Italians have not had the best of seasons in their league they are still a dangerous side. Any mistakes are more often than not punished on nights like these. Barcelona side must up their tempo and passing if they are to have any chance in the Champions League this season.
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.