Barca roll back the years
Barca rolled back the years on Thursday with an epic, attacking performance against Napoli that resulted in an impressive 4-2 win and safe passage to the last 16 of the Europa League.
The Catalans have struggled in Europe recently, particularly away from home, but the team put on a show with Xavi’s plan to press high and dominate the ball clear to see. It wasn’t quite the Barca of old, indeed it was quicker and more direct, but the feeling was the same.
There were some superb goals too. The first came from a lightning quick counter (when was the last time you saw Barca do that?) which involved Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang feeding Adama Traore who found...Jordi Alba overlapping on the right to finish the move.
Barca’s second goal came from a wonderful effort from the improving Frenkie de Jong (more on him later), while Gerard Pique even got in on the goalscoring action before Aubameyang helped himself to another in the second half.
Pique probably summed it up best after the match when he explained how Barca have “gone back to our origins, something we maybe had stopped doing recently.”
The defender also added, “It’s a message for everyone, for us and for people on the outside, that little by little we’re on our way back. We’re on the right path.” They most certainly are.
Frenkie puts on a midfield masterclass
It’s difficult to single out one player for praise after the win in Napoli but Frenkie de Jong certainly caught the eye, not just for his goal but for his absolute masterclass in midfield he put on at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium.
The Dutchman was been scrutinized, criticized and there have even been suggestions Barca should think about cashing in on him this season. However, this was the sort of display that showed just how good he is and even ended up with Xavi calling him a “genius” after the game.
De Jong’s goal was a brilliant effort, his stepover for Barca’s fourth was pretty tasty too and he also completed 71 of his 76 passes (that’s a 93% success rate) while also creating three chances for his team.
Jordi Alba’s on fire
Jordi Alba is another player who is frequently criticized but the left-back has hit a fine run of form and added another goal to his collection at Napoli. That’s now two goals and two assists in his last five games for the Catalans.
The 32-year-old may face increased competition for his place next season but for now seems to be thriving under Xavi and certainly enjoyed himself in Italy.
“I think we played a great game. We are on a great run of results and play. In the end we conceded too many but well, we have to be happy and move on,” he said afterwards. “Those were four very nice goals but what matters is that they go in! We have to believe in ourselves. Playing like this will bring great results.”
Barca’s new boys continue to thrive
Barca’s new signings also continue to thrive after arriving in January. Adama Traore had another fine game, picking up two assists, and causing all sorts of problems with his willingness to dribble.
The loanee does still have a few clumsy moments but is continuing to look an astute signing and justified his perhaps surprise inclusion in the starting XI ahead of Ousmane Dembele.
Adama Traoré’s game by numbers vs. Napoli:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 24, 2022
88% pass accuracy
6 touches in opp. box
5 duels won
4 ball recoveries
2 chances created
Adama the provider. pic.twitter.com/MqNxpNcuLh
Ferran Torres failed to find the back of the net again and was guilty of some wayward shooting but continues to play an important role. The Spain international’s ability on the ball, willingness to press and link the play are a big part of the team’s improved form.
And then there’s Aubameyang who seems to love the Europa League. The 32-year-old took his tally to 23 goals in 45 Europa League matches with a sensational finish which also continues his great start to life at Barca.
Four goals in his first five Barcelona appearances is the best start Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has made for a club in his career pic.twitter.com/AO22tRjMKG— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) February 25, 2022
All of which means Barca have now scored four goals against Atletico, Valencia, and Napoli. Thursday’s win also saw the Catalans score more than two goals away from home in a European tie for the first time since 2016.
Ter Stegen doubts remain
There weren’t too many negatives from Thursday’s performance, aside from a late booking for Gavi that will bring a one-match suspension, but Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s performance was something of a worry.
The goalkeeper was grilled at his pre-match press conference about the criticism he has received this season and insisted he was calm about his form and always analyzed his performances after games.
Ter Stegen may look back now and wonder why he decided to come flying out of his goal to take on Victor Osimhen. The goalkeeper ended up trying to pull out of the challenge but still conceded a needless penalty because of his rash decision.
Lorenzo Insigne’s resulting spot-kick made it 2-1 which offered Napoli hope when Barca really should have been out of sight. Fortunately for Ter Stegen, the visitors managed to regroup and put the game to bed but it’s another poor moment of judgement from the stopper.