After their ugly 2-2 draw against Espanyol this past Sunday, the feeling in the Barcelona squad before Napoli was more hopeful than anything.
Barca’s in town rivals took the squad to town for the most part, exposing the flaws within the set up on the field, and forcing Barca to work a lot harder to separate themselves from their familiar foe. And although the match did end in a 2-2 draw, and Barca did indeed snatch a point away, it seemed like optimism wasn’t in high supply ahead of today’s Europa League match against Napoli.
How it all went down
Throughout the first half of today’s match, the lack of high optimism seemed reasonable. Barca struggled piece together the attack. Misplaced passes, poor shots, everything seemed to be going wrong for Xavi’s side on the offensive end of the spectrum.
Defensively, there was a lot of concern coming into the match due to the lack of available talent. Ronald Araujo injured his calf against Espanyol, and wasn’t able to play against Napoli’s underrated attack. That left Xavi with some options, but relatively lackluster ones to fill out Barca’s back line.
In the end, Xavi went with a back four of Oscar Mingueza, Gerard Pique, Eric Garcia, and Jordi Alba. For the most part in the first half, there weren’t too many issues. A thunderous rebound by Piotr Zielinski to give the away side the opening tally stood as the only blemish on the back line’s resume.
But aside from that, Barca’s back line succeeded in limiting Napoli’s attack. As the second half began though, Barca’s mojo increased substantially, and we saw another glimpse on how dominant Xavi’s side could be when things were clicking.
The magic began with an improved technical display by the midfield. Frenkie De Jong’s masterful ability to carry the ball into dangerous areas was prevalent. He was instrumental in Barca finding a bit of a groove in the attack, skillfully weaving past Napoli’s defensive shape in the midfield and laying passes off for the more dangerous attackers up front.
Adama Traore had his moments. He succeeded in creating Barca’s only goal of the game. As his cross hit off the hand of a Napoli defender, and led to a penalty. Ousmane Dembele, who has been the subject of criticism amongst Barca fans, came on in the second half and provided a spark the squad desperately needed.
He did it while being bombarded with a heavy amount of boos, likely due to his contractural standing with the club.
After a few jabs here and there, chances started to fall into the laps of Xavi’s Barca side. Many were golden ones, often missed by newcomer Ferran Torres, who aside from goal that came from the penalty spot, had a forgettable performance today.
Despite the improved form of Barcelona in the second half, the squad couldn’t find a way to improve upon the 1-1 result vs Napoli. And although the match vs Napoli didn’t end with a loss for Barcelona, they’re still left with a feeling of emptiness. If they connected with one or even two of their golden chances in the second half, chances are they’re up by one or two goals on aggregate heading into next week’s final leg in Italy.
For now though, Barca will have to accept their shortcomings. They’ll have to build upon them, and make sure they’re eliminated. Not just before next week’s leg in Italy. But also before their next important La Liga match against Valencia on Sunday.
Barca’s next match will come on Sunday, as they’ll take on Valencia in another crucial La Liga fixture. If they win, they’ll remain in a Champions League spot within the league table. If they lose, they’ll have to hope Atletico Madrid, Real Sociedad, and others drop points. It’s necessary in order for them to maintain their coveted fourth spot on the table.
See you all then!