Match Reviews

Napoli 1-1 Barcelona: Match Review | Champions League

For the first time in three years, Barcelona travelled overseas to take part in the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League. Drawn up against Napoli, they took to the field in Naples late on Wednesday night hoping to take home an advantage against a team in disarray.

Xavi opted to go with his best lineup against the reigning Italian champions, and unsurprisingly so. Marc-Andre Ter Stegen started in goal with Ronald Araujo and Inigo Martinez in central defence. Joao Cancelo and Jules Kounde started at left and right-back respectively.

Andreas Christensen was deployed as the pivot once more on the night and was joined by Frenkie de Jong and Ilkay Gundogan in midfield. Robert Lewandowski, Lamine Yamal and Pedri completed the lineup.

The game at Diego Armando Maradona Stadium kicked off late in the night with the Catalans doing the honours. As was projected before the game, Barcelona dominated the opening spell of the clash and did so convincingly.

The first few minutes of the night were all Barcelona as Xavi’s men pushed forward ruthlessly in attack without looking back. It was, in many ways, one of the team’s best starts to a game in recent months.

Their first chance of the night arose as early as the fourth minute. Joao Cancelo’s cross into the centre found Robert Lewandowski who left the ball to run to Yamal’s feet in front of goal. The youngster’s shot tested Alex Meret but could not get the better of him.

Gundogan, Cancelo and Yamal ran the show for Barcelona in the period that followed, carrying on the Catalan supremacy and forcing Napoli to dig deep for defensive resources.

The hosts’ first attacking transition arose in the 11th minute when Kvaratskhelia attempted to venture into the Catalan box from the wing only to be denied by Araujo. At the other end, Lewy made a smart run to get into position but could not capitalise on Pedri’s through ball.

Napoli began to make inroads into the Barcelona half regularly only closer to the 20-minute mark, but the visitors’ defence was on point for most parts of the night.

The 22nd minute saw perhaps the Blaugranas’ biggest chance of the half when Cancelo sent a well-worked cut-back into the middle of the Napoli box. Lewandowski made good contact in front of goal but was denied brilliantly by Meret. Moments later, Gundogan tried his luck with a long-range shot but was sensationally denied once more.

The final 15 minutes of the half saw Barcelona lose steam and give up possession. The Italians took control of the proceedings, and while they did not create any big chances in that duration, did not allow Barcelona many big chances either.

Heading into half-time, the scoreline read 0-0 though the game on the field was far from equal. Barcelona were clearly the better side on the night and unlucky not to be in front.

The Naples-based side got the ball running in the second half and even dominated the early minutes after the restart. However, it was Xavi’s side that created the first big chance of the half once again as Yamal’s cutback to Gundogan opened up the Napoli defence.

Barcelona regained control of the proceedings after the 50th minute once more, holding possession and pushing forward in attack. Just shy of the hour mark, they took the lead with a crucial and world-class strike.

The move began with Pedri’s magical ball from the edge of the Napoli box, through the legs of the defender, into Lewy’s path in front of goal. Faced against two defenders in the box, the Polish marksman took two deft touches to create space before tucking the ball into the bottom corner with a surgeon’s precision.

Minutes later, Pedri attempted a stunning volley towards Meret but was denied once more by the Napoli shot-stopper.

Completely against the run of play, however, Victor Osimhen equalised the score for Napoli with a simple finish in front of Barcelona’s goal. Ronald Araujo’s blunder allowed the striker a clear shot in front of the goal, and Ter Stegen’s unconvincing reaction only made it easier.

Raphinha replaced Yamal in the 79th minute, giving the youngster some much-needed rest.

Napoli’s goal turned around the trend in the game as the hosts slowly took over as the sole attacking side in the finish ten minutes. The Italians attacked with ferocity, relentless with their forward passes, and looked the more likely to score a winner.

Oriol Romeu and Joao Felix came on for Christensen and Pedri respectively with five minutes to play.

The game in Naples eventually boiled down to a 1-1 draw which is partly unfair to Barcelona who hardly gave Napoli a chance on the night. Nevertheless, they will have the home advantage in the reverse fixture and will be the favourites to advance considering that they are not chasing a deficit.

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