Barcelona began their Europa League quarterfinal journey with a hard-fought 1-1 draw away to Eintracht Frankfurt in the first leg in an electric atmosphere at the Deutsche Bank Park. Barça played very poorly for most of the match and found themselves behind early in the second half, but reacted well and found a vital equalizer through Ferran Torres to avoid defeat and make their jobs slightly easier in the second leg, which takes place next week at Camp Nou.
The first 45 minutes from Barça were quite simply horrendous. The Blaugrana played some of their worst football under Xavi, constantly losing possession with bad passes in midfield and allowing Frankfurt huge chances on the counter-attack, and they should have been down 1-0 before the 10th minute but Djibril Sow missed a giant opportunity from 10 yards out.
There was no period of dominance of possession from Barça and they never came close to threatening the Frankfurt defense, and the home team didn’t have to work too hard to frustrate the Blaugrana. Eintracht were excellent in the period, and they were also helped by a horrible referee that allowed them to be way too physical and get away with clear fouls in dangerous areas.
The bad referee also gave Frankfurt a penalty when Sergio Busquets clearly won the ball with a tackle on Rafael Borré inside the box. Thankfully VAR stepped up and the decision was reversed, but the officiating was remarkably biased towards the home side.
At halftime Barça were playing awful football and Frankfurt were doing as well as they could have hoped for, and the Catalans needed a lot of improvement in the second half.
There was no time to find out whether or not Barça could improve: just three minutes into the half, Ansgar Knauff scored a sensational opening goal to give Frankfurt the lead the home team deserved. Barça did have more of the ball and were less wasteful in possession in the minutes after the goal, but they still lacked creativity and intensity up front.
So Xavi sent Ousmane Dembélé and Frenkie De Jong onto the pitch, and it took just three minutes for both to make a big impact: Dembélé started the move on the right, and De Jong made a gorgeous passing exchange with Ferran Torres and gave the Spaniard a great assist for a beautiful goal and a huge equalizer with 25 minutes to go.
From the moment they scored, Barça were the better team on the pitch and started to look like the team we’ve become used to seeing the last few months. And they got a big break with 15 minutes left when Frankfurt center-back Tuta was sent off for a second yellow, and the home team was reduced to 10 men.
But Frankfurt did a fantastic job of managing the numerical disadvantage and stayed solid and organized at the back, not allowing Barça to create a single chance in the dying moments. The final whistle came, and Barça avoided defeat at a tough stadium and will have a somewhat easier task at home next week. But they’ll need to play a lot better, and their European performances continue to be below the standards set in La Liga.
Frankfurt: Trapp; Tuta, Hinteregger, Ndicka; Knauff, Jakic (Rode 89’), Sow, Kostic; Lindstrom (Hauge 73’), Borré (Ache 89’), Kamada (Touré 80’)
Goal: Knauff (48’)
Red Card: Tuta (78’)
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Araujo, Piqué (Lenglet 23’), Eric, Alba; Pedri, Busquets, Gavi (F. De Jong 62’); Adama (Dembélé 62’), Aubameyang, Ferran
Goal: Ferran (66’)