Can Barca win the second leg in Napoli?
Barcelona’s draw with Napoli at the Camp Nou means it’s all to play for in the second leg to see which team goes through to the last 16 of the Europa League.
The lack of away goals will soften the blow of drawing a match Barca really should have won, and the Catalans will be praying those missed chances don’t prove too costly.
Yet winning at Napoli will still prove a tough ask, particularly as the stats show that the Serie A side tend to go through after a first-leg draw.
#LOOKATTHATSTAT - Napoli have NEVER lost a European two-legged tie after drawing away in the first leg. They defended that draw at home 12 times and always made it through to the next round.— MisterChip (English) (@MisterChiping) February 17, 2022
In contrast, Barca have won only 5 of 12 European ties (a mere 42%) after drawing the first leg at home, according to MisterChip.
The stats suggest Napoli have the edge ahead of the second leg, but Barca’s display will give the players confidence they can complete the job. The Catalans had 21 shots on goal against Napoli, but tellingly only five were on target.
Ferran has a Napoli nightmare
The one player who had the best chances to put the game away was Ferran Torres. The January signing should have given Barca the lead moments before Napoli scored but missed the target.
Torres was getting visibly frustrated by the end of the first half but showed great composure to step up and take the penalty which leveled the game for Barca. However, that was as good as it got for the 21-year-old who was reduced to tears by his profligate finishing at the Camp Nou.
The former Manchester City man really should have taken at least one of the two late chances he was presented with but simply could not find the target. His emotional reaction at the end showed he was feeling it just as much as the fans.
Ferran Torres couldn't hold back his emotions after the whistle. pic.twitter.com/JYmxsBJ9ma— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) February 17, 2022
Xavi and Carles Puyol both came out and backed Ferran after the game in a strong show of support for the new signing. Torres will now be hoping he can make amends when the two teams meet again at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium.
Dembele quietens the whistles
Another player who could make the difference in the return leg is Ousmane Dembele. The Frenchman enjoyed a bright cameo after coming on in the second half to huge whistles at the Camp Nou.
Xavi has already asked supporters not to boo the forward but those words went unheeded, initially at least, as Dembele’s every touch was whistled.
However, as Dembele began to cause problems for Napoli the whistles began to quieten down as fans realized it would be more useful to support their player instead.
Gerard Pique repeated Xavi’s plea after the game, telling supporters that the whistles do not help the team at all.
“I don’t know how it will affect him. People are free to demonstrate however they want, but it doesn’t do us any good,” he said. “I understand that people may be upset, but I would like them to demonstrate at the end of the game. For us it is vital that there are no whistles during the game, because it’s distracting.”
Dembele created two late chances for Barca to win the game which does suggest he has a chance of starting at Napoli, particularly away from home where he’s unlikely to receive the same treatment from fans.
Busquets benched as Xavi rotates
Thursday’s match also saw Xavi opt for a spot of rotation. The Barcelona coach made four chances with Oscar Mingueza, Eric Garcia, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nico Gonzalez coming into the starting XI.
The coach’s decision to start Mingueza over Sergino Dest, with Dani Alves ineligible, was a little surprising but the 22-year-old did a solid enough job and drew plenty of praise from his manager after the match.
Of course the big news was the sight of Sergio Busquets on the bench. Frenkie de Jong took over from the captain and put in a decent display, while Nico had another strong showing and Pedri stole the show in midfield.
Pedri’s game by numbers vs. Napoli:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 17, 2022
100% long ball accuracy
30 final third passes completed
12 final third entries
5 chances created (most)
5 duels won
5 touches in opp. box
3 ball recoveries
He was superb this evening. #UEL pic.twitter.com/dxYzTeWLEx
Busquets did arrive late on as Napoli tired and helpd Barca take complete control of the game, while the arrival of Gavi also had an impact as the 17-year-old intensity’s and drive saw Barca dominate the closing stages.
Araujo needed for the return
Barcelona were of course without Ronald Araujo for the first leg due to a minor injury but will need the Uruguayan back for the return. Napoli’s main threat came, unsurprisingly, from the lively Victor Osimhen who kept on getting in behind the Barca defense.
Napoli’s goal also came from some more dreadful defending by Barca. The Catalans were cut apart and the whole team seemed to just stand and watch as Piotr Zieliński had his initial shot blocked and then slotted home the rebound.
The return of Araujo should strengthen a Barca backline that has only managed two clean sheets in 2022. Keeping Napoli from find the back of the net in the return will be crucial, particularly as Barca have failed to score more than one goal in their last ten European games.