Barcelona are through to the Europa League quarterfinals thanks to hard-fought 2-1 victory against Galatasaray in the Round of 16 second leg in Istanbul. Barça started the game very poorly and found themselves behind, but reacted well and scored two good goals to leave a very intense atmosphere in the Turkish capital with the victory and a spot in the Last Eight.
The opening 30 minutes of the first half were easily the worst Barça have played since Xavi Hernández took over. It was like watching Ronald Koeman’s team at its very worst: terrible passing, zero intensity and remarkably bad defending.
Barça kept losing easy balls in midfield and allowing Galatasaray to create big chances on the counter-attack, and the entire back four looked completely lost trying to defend the home team whenever they played a long ball over the top. Eric García was especially bad, unable to handle the physicality of Bafétimbi Gomis and making one bad decision after another in possession.
The home team stayed organized and was superior in and out of possession, and they got a much deserved opening goal: captain Marcão scored a nice diving header off a corner kick and put Galatasaray ahead to send an amazing Istanbul crowd into a frenzy.
Galatasaray’s goal seemed to wake up Barça, who finally managed to string some passes together and not lose the ball easily. And after their best passage of play down the left wing, Ferran Torres made a nice assist to Pedri who sat down two defenders inside the box and passed the ball into the net to score a gorgeous goal and give the Blaugrana hope.
At halftime, Barça had played awful for a half-hour but finished the half strong and needed to improve even more to win the game in the second half.
It was a different Barça to start the second half: more intense, more precise, more creative. They pressured Galatasaray high up the pitch and won the ball in dangerous positions, and it took just four minutes for them to go in front: after Sergio Busquets and Pedri had their initial shots saved by Iñaki Peña, Frenkie De Jong was first to the rebound and gave Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang an easy tap-in to put Barça in the lead.
The Blaugrana continued to play well in the 20 minutes following Aubameyang’s goal, but didn’t manage to create a real change to score a third and put the tie to bed. Because of that, Galatasaray sensed they could still get an equalizer and started to amp up the pressure again, which led to some very tense moments as we entered the final 15 minutes.
Things got even more complicated with five minutes to go, when the game had to be stopped when several water bottles were thrown from the stands at Jordi Alba on the touchline. Galatasaray players were able to calm the fans down, and the final minutes went ahead.
Barça managed to keep possession and survive the environment in the dying seconds, and the final whistle came to send them through to the quarterfinals. This ended up being a much tougher tie than expected and Barça never played to the standard shown in La Liga recently, and they’ll have to play better in the next round to continue their quest for the trophy.
But the job is done, and El Clásico is up next. A big week is off to a good start.
Galatasaray: Peña; Boey, Nelsson, Marcão, Van Aanholt (Bayram 85’); Antalyali, Kutlu; Babel (Dervisoglu 74’), Cicaldau (Morutan 74’), Akturkoglu; Gomis (Mohamed 63’)
Goal: Marcão (28’)
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Dest (Araujo 56’), Piqué (Lenglet 81’), Eric, Alba; F. De Jong (Gavi 68’), Busquets, Pedri; Adama (Dembélé 46’), Aubameyang (Memphis 81’), Ferran
Goals: Pedri (37’), Aubameyang (49’)