The resonant duel between SSC Napoli and FC Barcelona took place on the smaller European stage this year. For the Catalans, former Dortmund player Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was in particular focus after his league hat-trick against FC Valencia. The hosts relied on the services of former Wolfsburg Victor Osimhen and RB Leipzig Diego Diem.
At first the two teams carefully felt each other in the neutral zone. Then came the Catalans 1-0 lead early through a disastrous Italian corner kick. This fell at the feet of Aubameyang, who found Adama Traore in the Neapolitan half. The Spaniard beat three opponents and then sent to Jordi Alba, who ran with him, kept calm in front of goal and managed to push to make the score 1-0 (8).
Only five minutes passed before the second stroke of the Catalans. Marc-Andre ter Stegen put Ferran Torres in the spotlight with a precise kick, and immediately passed the ball to Frenkie de Jong with a back-heel pass. The Dutchman was not exposed to any central pressure in front of the penalty area and tried it from a distance of almost 20 metres. The result was a superb shot in the upper right corner of the goal and made it 2-0 for Blaugrana (13th place).
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In the 23rd minute, Ter Stegen’s trip outside the goal brought the hosts back to the match. Because the German goalkeeper was too late in his intervention and missed the ball in the running duel against Usimin, referee Sergei Karasev thus made the point. Lorenzo Insigne confidently converted the penalty and made it 1-2 (23).
As the first half progressed, the hosts made frequent holes in their defense and gave many gifts to the Catalans. With more consistency in actions, the game may have been decided earlier. Gerard Pique did better before the break. After a corner kick for Blaugrana, the ball landed several times on Jordi Alba’s left wing. A slightly skewed cross pass was found by Pique, who maneuvered the ball down the right goal with little speed but a lot of feeling (45).
Napoli reacted at the start of the second half with a change, bringing Matteo Politano to Diego Diem. But again the guests looked better. The very energetic Traore moved to the center across the right wing and pushed the ball into the middle. There De Jong cleverly let the ball pass to Aubameyang, who only had to set foot from twelve metres. Barcelona was in the lead 4-1 (59).
The final phase was marked by several personnel changes on both sides. Among other things, Napoli brought Dries Mertens off the bench and in the 87th minute Politano scored the goal to make it 2:4. However, time was running out for the Italians, and Barcelona carried the win safely home.
Dries Mertens (SSC Napoli): “We didn’t play at our level. Barcelona deserved credit after a solid performance. It’s a real shame we didn’t reach our potential. We’ve had bad luck lately because we’ve had a lot of injuries. Unfortunately you can’t make the most of it. But we are still a great team.” Now we are only thinking about the league. We have an important match against Lazio on Sunday and we want to show a direct reaction.”
Matteo Politano (Naples SSC): “We made life difficult for ourselves. Unfortunately, we started the game poorly and scored early and that set the tone for the rest of the match. When a strong team like Barcelona took the lead, they let you in that we couldn’t get back in the game. It’s a shame because we could have made Better performance today. Now we have to look forward. We have an important game on Sunday and everything is still possible for us in the league.”
Xavi Hernandez (Barcelona coach): “It’s a very important win for us and against a big opponent in the Champions League fighting for the Scudetto (Italian championship, editor’s note) You fight you have to keep working. This team excites me and fills me with hope for the future. The players did something very important and wonderful today. Are we now the favorites in the European League? not at all. We must continue to act with great humility. It was a great match and we are in the last 16, but we haven’t won anything yet.”
Adama Traore (Barcelona): “Barcelona always aims to win every game, no matter who they face or in what competition. We will continue to work to improve. The coach tells me to look for individual duels, which I am supposed to do. Create space for us and make the right decisions. I can still improve. As a player. I don’t want to say big words about what happened to us in Europe before. I know what the time has come and every player must do everything they can now. We all know what the coach is asking and we have to follow that path now.”
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It was remarkable: this Barcelona performance is reminiscent of earlier times
The Catalan team has been subject to a lot of criticism in the recent past. After the sad end of the Messi era and the beginning of a new era, much of Barcelona’s old glory has faded. But today, Xavi Hernandez’s players played purposefully and powerfully from the first second. The highly-changing Jordi Alba introduced the X Factor to the guests, not least because of his goal to make the score 1-0. In his 412th appearance for Blaugrana, the 32-year-old continued to walk up and down the touchline. A solid 91% success rate, 71% duels wins and 92 ball moves also speak for themselves. In addition to the four goals, it was possible to score more goals with greater stability. This performance was supposed to delight all Barcelona fans and bring back memories of earlier times.
After just four matches, Adama Traoré made four assists at FC Barcelona. At Wolverhampton he needed 71 games in his first four assists.
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