Messi gives Barcelona Champions League chance
Barcelona saw off Napoli on Saturday to book their place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League with Lionel Messi once again displaying his genius.
The captain scored another stunning goal that will live long in the memory, won a penalty off Kalidou Koulibaly and then did his best to conserve his energy in the second half.
It’s no secret that Barca aren’t the best team left in the competition, and the Napoli win showed off some of the best and the worst features of Quique Setien’s side.
Yet where there is Messi there is hope. The one-off nature of the Champions League may actually help out Barca, and if Messi keeps producing the goods they still have a chance.
De Jong steps up with Vidal and Buquets out
Frenke de Jong made a welcome return to the starting XI and put in an impressive showing in midfield against Napoli.
Barca were without Arturo Vidal and Sergio Busquets due to suspension, but De Jong was one of their best performers in midfield alongside Ivan Rakitic and Sergi Roberto.
Frenkie De Jong’s game by numbers vs. Napoli:— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) August 8, 2020
100% take-ons completed
94% final third passes completed
92% pass accuracy
4 ball recoveries
2 fouls suffered
1 chance created
Ran the show in midfield. #UCL pic.twitter.com/lMDNssafbH
The Netherlands international should have ended the game with an assist too.
A simply gorgeous pass to Messi was neatly controlled and finished by the captain, only for VAR to very harshly rule out it for handball.
Lenglet makes welcome return
Another Barcelona player making a welcome return was Clement Lenglet. The Frenchman was only passed fit on Friday but was back in the team alongside Gerard Pique in defence.
Lenglet helped calm nerves after a bright Napoli with the opening goal. The centre-back powerfully headed home Ivan Rakitic’s corner after 10 minutes.
The header also brought up a crazy stat. It’s Barca’s first headed goal in Europe’s top competition since Paco Alcacer scored against Sporting in 2017.
Lenglet also produced a solid performance in defence to help Barca see out the win and secure a place in the quarter-finals.
| FOCUS— SofaScore (@SofaScoreINT) August 8, 2020
Clément Lenglet vs Napoli:
⏱️ 90' played
89 touches (most for Barcelona)
⚽️ 1 goal
5/7 acc. long balls
69/73 acc. passes
4 blocked shots
8.3 SofaScore rating
Strong performance by the French defender! #UCL pic.twitter.com/Ug8qo2i863
Indeed it was an impressive return from Lenglet who will need to be at his very best next time out when he comes up against Robert Lewandowski.
Where were Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig?
While Lenglet and De Jong were back in the team there was, bizarrely, no sign at all of Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig who didn’t manage a single minute between them
It was not a big surprise to see the duo left out of the starting XI, with Quique Setien opting for experience with Sergi Roberto in midfield and Antoine Griezmann in attack.
Yet it was a shock to see the pair not make it off the bench, particularly seeing as they were not released to help Barca B’s promotion bid because they’d be needed in the Champions League.
What was even more bafffling was Setien’s use of substitutes once again.
Barca B captain Monchu arrived for a debut on 84 minutes, while the much-maligned Junior Firpo arrived in stoppage time.
Bayern Munich next for Barca
The win means Barcelona play again on Friday against Bayern Munich for a place in the semi-finals and are likely to go into the match as underdogs.
The German giants have cruised through the tournament so far, winning all six group games and then hammering Chelsea 7-1 on aggregate in the last 16.
Setien said after the game the match will be “complicated,” while Suarez has rated Barca’s chances as “50:50” against the German double winners.
It will certainly be difficult but, as we all know, in a one-off game anything can happen, and we’ve already seen a few shocks in the tournament so far this season.
Setien will have more options at his disposal too. Vidal and Busquets will return from suspension, while there’s a chance Ousmane Dembele could be fit enough to make the bench. And you never know we could even see Puig and Fati at some point too as well.