Thursday presented FC Barcelona with an important opportunity in the match vs Napoli. An opportunity to advance further in their pursuit of silverware, after a disastrous start to their 2021-2022 campaign. The one lone obstacle that stood in their way, was a club that’s heavily connected to an icon of the game, and a legit threat to end their important European run.
We know what Napoli is and what they bring to the table. A competitive side that won’t make any match a walk in the park. An attack that can give any back line fits. As well as an attitude that suits the club extremely well.
With an opponent as tricky as Napoli, FC Barcelona needed to stay focused and avoid mistakes to put themselves in a good position to walk out of the Diego Armando Maradona with a crucial positive result. Their recent form suggested they would, but with the topsy turvy ways of the modern Barca, any result — whether it’d be negative or positive for Barca — was ultimately on the table as a realistic option.
Luckily for Barca, their volatile ways weren’t a major story, as they blasted their way towards a 4-2 win and booked their trip to the round of 16 in the Europa League.
It was an impressive display from Xavi’s side. One that included an extended period of traditional, yet useful Barca play.
Using possession as a weapon. Being clinical in front of goal. Sprinkling in a dash of brilliance. Maintaining consistent play in all three facets of the match. Barca set the tempo early on by accomplishing those four keys and more.
It all started with a blistering counterattack. A transitional period of play that became must watch once the club brought in Adama Traore and his blazing pace.
Barca’s first goal didn’t come via their traditional ways.
Adama Traore started the action. Quickly pacing down the middle of the pitch, before laying the ball off to a surging Jordi Alba. Alba then took a few dribbles into Napoli’s penalty area, and calmly pushed a right footed shot into the back of the net.
1-0 Barca, 2-1 on aggregate.
Alba’s cool and collected finish became the spark for Barca’s spectacular day. While also serving as an indicator for how the rest of Barca’s night would go.
The second goal came on the counterattack again. But this time, it was a beautiful finish by a once ostracized Dutch midfielder that gave the Catalan a massive boost of confidence.
Ferran Torres received a long ball over the top, before back heeling it towards his intended target, Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang. Torres’ pass didn’t connect with Aubameyang, instead falling into a pocket of space, waiting for someone to take possession.
Frenkie De Jong then accelerated towards the ball, took a couple of dribbles towards Napoli’s penalty area, then shot a beautiful curled shot towards the very top right corner of the net. It gracefully settled in the net, extending Barca’s lead on aggregate to two, and giving Barca more room on the scoresheet.
The goal was important for De Jong, whose recent play has completely reversed his reputation among Catalan fans and media. His poor stretch of play during the first half of the season left some wondering if he’d be sold, just to take advantage of the remaining value he had.
But De Jong has changed course, and has given Barca no choice but to remain confident in his ability to compete.
The third goal was tame in comparison to the first two. But it was still a goal that helped Barca move further towards the next round of the Europa League.
After a corner kick and an eventual deflected pass by Alba, it was Gerard Pique’s time to join the goal scoring party. Pique took the deflected pass off his lower leg. He then controlled like a true attacker and slotted it home in the bottom right corner.
The goal was another example of Pique”s unique ability to finish as a defender. Most defenders are attributed with having clumsy footwork and lousy finishing skills. But Pique has consistently show he’s far different from the average center back.
Barca went into half time up 3-1 and looking pretty. All that was left was to maintain the lead, and avoid crucial mistakes in the second half.
And that they did.
The second half wasn’t as eventful as the first half for Xavi’s Barcelona. But that’s supposed to be a thing when you’re trying to avoid mistakes, and cruise to a good result.
There was a goal in the second half from Barca’s side. It came from Aubameyang, an unexpected conclusion after his howler of a performance in the first half.
After a good run by Traore, and a great dummy by De Jong, Aubameyang struck. He received the ball on his patented right foot. Then he struck it into the upper portion of the net to make it 4-2 Barcelona, and 5-3 on aggregate.
It was the final goal of the game for Barca. But an important one, as it put the final nail in Napoli’s Europa League coffin.
After, Barca went to work by keeping possession and staying sound defensively. In the end, Barca cruised to a 4-2 win, and booked their trip to the round of 16 of the Europa League.
Today’s match was once again, a fine piece of work by none other than Xavi. He’s put his own personal stamp on his boyhood club. He’s also brought a fine style of football back to a club that lacked an identity in recent seasons.
Well, other than the gargantuan stature of Lionel Messi.
Barca isn’t going to win the league. They might not win the Europa League either. But despite that, the future looks bright in Barcelona, and Xavi is one of the main reasons why.
If the club can give Xavi a supreme option in the center of the attack, and another key defender to help the defense, we soon might see Xavi’s vision completely unlocked.
We’ll have to wait until the summer to see if that’ll happen. But for now, it’s best to enjoy the ride.
Barca’s next match
Barca’s next match will come on Sunday against Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou.
See you all then!