Ziel-ous Napoli held by bullish Barça
The ‘Diego Maradona derby’ between Barcelona and Napoli ended in a 1-1 draw. A game of two halves played out at the Camp Nou, which leaves the UEFA Europa League playoff tie perfectly poised for the second leg in Naples next week.
Barcelona found themselves in unlikely territory, playing in UEFA’s second tier club competition for the first time since the 2003/04 season, but the Catalans knew winning the tournament could be their best chance of playing Champions League football next season. However, it was the visitors from Naples that had the better of the first half, as they dictated the pace of the game. ‘Barça’ struggled to get a foothold in the game, but were almost gifted an opening goal. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang used his lightning pace to run in-behind, causing a mixup in the visitors’ defence, and the ball fell to Ferran Torres who rashly blazed his effort over, despite having the time and space to compose himself.
This miss proved vital as Napoli went right up the other end and scored. Elif Elmas and Piotr Zieliński brilliantly linked up on the right wing, before the latter’s initial shot at goal was saved by Marc-André ter Stegen, but the Pole followed up on the rebound, smashing it into the top corner. After falling behind, ‘Barça’ looked devoid of ideas, and went into HT needing to shake things up.
Xavi’s teamtalk at the break must have truly inspired his side, as they came out for the second half fired up, looking like a completely different team from the first period. The pressure paid dividends as they were awarded a penalty for a Juan Jesus handball, with Torres stepping up with a skip to slot the spot-kick away, making up for his earlier miss. With their tails up, Xavi made a triple change in order to push for a second goal, but one change in particular was met with boos ringing around the Camp Nou. Ousmane Dembélé entered the field to a hostile atmosphere from his own fans due to his public fall out with the club hierarchy.
Unlike his HT teamtalk, Xavi’s substitutions failed to light the spark his side needed to get a winner. Napoli successfully held on for a draw, mainly thanks to a number of late Torres misses, leaving the tie finely balanced for the second leg next week.