Barcelona vs Napoli, Champions League: Final Score 3-1, Barça earn hard-fought win at home, advance to quarter-finals


Barcelona are safely through to their first Champions League quarter-final in four years thanks to a hard-fought 3-1 win over Napoli in the second leg of their Round of 16 tie at the Montjuïc Olympic Stadium on Tuesday night. Barça made a phenomenal start, struggled mightily over the next 45 minutes of action, but finished the game strong to earn a well-deserved victory and move on to the Last Eight of Europe’s top competition.

FIRST HALF

The first 20 minutes of the opening period were, in a word, perfect: Barça were sensational to start the game, playing on the front foot with quick, incisive passes through the lines and a ferocious attitude without the ball to press high up the pitch with exceptional intensity to win the ball back and stop Napoli from having any joy on the ball.

And on top of their control of the game, Barça created four big chances: Fermín López missed the first two, but third time was the charm for the young midfielder: after an excellent passing sequence down the left wing, a through ball from João Cancelo found Raphinha, who crossed it back to the middle where Robert Lewandowski took out two defenders with a great dummy and allowed Fermín plenty of time and space to get the finish right and give Barça the lead.

Napoli attacked right from the kickoff and nearly created a chance down the left wing, but Barça’s defense dealt with the problem and the ensuing counter-attack led to the fourth chance and the second goal: Lamine Yamal found Raphinha on the run and the Brazilian hit the inside of the post with a powerful shot, and João Cancelo was quickest to the rebound to pass the ball into an open net and double the Blaugrana lead.

It was a truly fantastic start to the game by the home side that helped settle the nerves of the team and the crowd, and the Catalans decided to not take too many risks and were comfortable letting Napoli have more of the ball while still pressing high to force mistakes and create more chances.

But Barça dropped too far back and lost the intensity shown in the first 20 minutes, and they paid for it when a nice passing sequence down the right wing by Napoli ended with an assist by Matteo Politano and a rare goal by Amir Rrahmani, who made a surprising run from center-back and found the bottom corner to bring the visitors back in the game and the tie.

Napoli were in full control of the action in the minutes following the goal, and captain Giovanni Di Lorenzo nearly scored the equalizer with a header that required a world-class stop by Marc-André ter Stegen. Barça had totally lost the edge and dominance of the early moments of the match, and the Catalans looked ready to surrender their lead towards the end of the period.

But the Catalans did a solid job of wrestling back some control and slowing down Napoli’s momentum, and they managed to keep their lead as we reached halftime. The home team was going through at the break, but Napoli were very much still alive and were set for a very tense second half.

SECOND HALF

The start of the final period was indeed tense, with Barça unable to keep hold of the ball for extended stretches and not executing their press with the same intensity and attention to detail, which created more spaces for Napoli to attack in behind. Ronald Araujo and Pau Cubarsí made a couple of key interventions against Victor Osimhen, but the Catalans looked a little too stretched as we reached the hour mark.

Xavi Hernández sensed the issues in the defensive structure and tried to shore things up in midfield with Sergi Roberto and Oriol Romeu replacing Fermín López (who was starting to look very tired) and Andreas Christensen (who had a yellow card). Napoli coach Francesco Calzona instantly responded with two substitutions of his own, looking to add some fresh legs to the wings and bring more danger to a vulnerable Barça defense.

Barça’s changes had a positive impact on the team early on, as a more defensive midfield setup allowed the Catalans to regain control of the ball and slow down the tempo of the game, forcing Napoli to retreat and defend their box during long stretches for the first time in the half. The Blaugrana nearly restored their two-goal lead through Yamal, but the youngster was offside and the goal was disallowed.

Lamine truly came to life after the hour mark, using his skills and aggressive dribbling to create havoc on the left side of Napoli’s defense, and Barça’s best moments in attack all involved Yamal in some capacity. The Blaugrana were once again the superior team on the pitch as we reached the final 15 minutes, but they still needed a third goal to secure qualification.

Yamal missed a golden chance to score that third goal, and Barça almost paid for it instantly in the 80th minute when a cross by Mathías Olivera found Jesper Lindstrom all alone inside the six-yard box, but his header went inexplicably wide and the Catalans dodged a major bullet.

Xavi looked to his bench for help getting the all-important third goal as João Félix replaced Raphinha, but it was another substitute who decided the game: captain Roberto once again came up huge on the European stage as he went on a fabulous solo run from left to center, made a gorgeous one-two with Ilkay Gündogan at the edge of the box, and gave Robert Lewandowski the easiest of tap-in to restore Barça’s goal lead with seven minutes to go.

The dying minutes had a couple of scares as Napoli tried everything to get a late miracle, but Barça avoided conceding a second goal and the final whistle came to send them to the quarter-finals.

The spectacular start and the strong finish helped Barça overcome a very difficult stretch in the middle of the game, and they absolutely deserved the victory and a spot in the next round. Xavi made the right team selection and substitutions, and almost every player performed at a high level for most of the night. A true team win, and a happy night in Europe for a change.

Well done, boys!


Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Kounde, Araujo, Cubarsí, Cancelo; Fermín (Roberto 61’), Christensen (Romeu 61’), Gündogan; Yamal, Lewandowski, Raphinha (Félix 80’)

Goals: Fermín (15’), Cancelo (17’), Lewandowski (83’)

Napoli: Meret; Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Jesus, Rui (Olivera 64’); Anguissa, Lobotka, Traorè (Raspadori 78’); Politano (Lindstrom 64’), Osimhen, Kvaratskhelia (Ngonge 90+3’)

Goals: Rrahmani (30’)



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