Barcelona are No Match for Napoli

Barcelona won with a convincing score of 3-1 against Napoli on Saturday. Goals each from Clement Lenglet, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez led Barca to advance to the quarter-finals. While Napoli was only able to score one goal through Lorenzo Insigne’s penalty.

Even though they lost by a two-goal deficit, Napoli actually put up a fight that was quite difficult for Barca. Throughout the match, Barca only controlled 52% of the ball, far below Barca’s average ball possession this season of 62%. Napoli’s total shots are twice as many as Barca. Gennaro Gattuso’s men have recorded 18 shots, while Barca have only made seven.

Quique Setien fielded a 4-4-2 diamond formation. Antoine Griezmann dropped to number 10. Lionel Messi on the right and Luis Suarez on the left. But Barca players are very free to move so that when the ball is in the final third, they play very fluidly. Meanwhile, Gattuso continued to play 4-3-3 with the front trio of Dries Mertens, Jose Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne.

Playing away does not make Napoli afraid to attack. They apply the principle of attack well, which is to open the playing area as wide as possible to create space. Napoli are also quite good at shifting the direction of attack, especially when Barca are defending with a low block.

Mertens’ chances at the start of the match were born out of this scheme. Moving the direction of attack quickly left them with a 3v2 situation on the left flank. After feeding Piotr Zielinski, Mario Rui moved to the center to grab Nelson Semedo. Insigne has room for dribbles. He then released a through ball to Mertens despite being assisted by Gerard Pique who failed to clear the ball.

The combination of Napoli’s front-line trio often endangers Barca’s defense. Napoli’s tendency of wing-backs to overlap is exploited by Napoli. Insigne and Callejon stayed wide so that halfspace was attacked by Napoli midfielders Piotr Zielinski and Fabian Ruiz. The trio contributed to Napoli’s seven shots.

Credit to Napoli’s attack but credit also to Barca’s defense. Of Napoli’s 18 kicks, 10 of them were successfully blocked. The good positioning and anticipation of the Barca defender means that Marc-Andre ter Stegen doesn’t have to bother making many saves. In total only three have managed to lead to the goal.

Barca still has to make improvements from the defense side. They often leave large spaces on the wings. This was really exploited by Napoli so that they could fire 18 shots. Facing Bayern Munich in the next phase, Barca must anticipate space on the wings. Bayern have wing-backs and wing-backs who are very dangerous if given space.

Barca kept pressing high but they were more flexible. When the ball is in the middle third, Barca tends to apply a low block defense line. One thing Napoli could exploit is the space between the lines. The three Barca midfielders are too parallel to create space between the lines. One of the reasons is the absence of Sergio Busquets as a defensive midfielder. But the absence of a hole striker from Napoli means that this space is not maximized.

Barca’s high pressing paid off in this match. Suarez’s penalty goal came from a foul by Kalidou Koulibaly on Messi. The Barca captain put his foot closer to the ball than Koulibaly so when Koulibaly was about to pass, he kicked Messi in the foot.

Just like Napoli, Barca also plays very openly. Semedo and Alba expand the playing area. Alba rose high enough so that Suarez could attack the center area. Griezmann acts as a hole striker to fill the space between Napoli’s lines.

The corner that leads to the first goal is born out of this situation. Griezmann was able to expose the space between Napoli’s lines so he could pass the ball to Alba. The Spanish full-back fired in a cross which ended in a corner.

The problem is that Griezmann doesn’t play consistently. Griezmann often held onto the ball and delayed the progression of the attack, giving Napoli time to reshape. This makes Messi often come down and help progress from midfield.

If Griezmann is able to play well as a hole striker, Messi doesn’t need to play much. He can receive the ball in a high area so it is more dangerous. Messi’s goal is proof. Initially Messi was not involved with Barca’s attack in the middle, he remains in a high area. After Suarez moved the direction of attack to the right, Messi had room for dribbling despite having to face three Napoli players. He successfully found the shooting space and finally doubled Barca’s lead.

Messi is an outstanding player in every phase of attack, whether it’s building attacks or finishing attacks. Undoubtedly its quality as an initiator, creator, and goalscorer. But Barca could be more dangerous if Messi did not take up all of these duties.

Napoli’s defense was actually quite tight but Barca were still able to make good progression in the first half. The second half of the match was very different. Although Barca kept the ball, they failed to create a single shot. Barca are just playing outside of Napoli’s shape. Not much penetration

Barca players seemed to lose motivation when the score was 3-1. The decline in performance in the second half must be fixed when facing Bayern. Against the Bundesliga champions, Barca must appear consistent for 90 minutes despite being superior. Barca must not be complacent when they face Bayern with an extraordinary mentality and quality.

Barca are not as dominant as usual and Napoli’s 18 shots are proof that Napoli are giving a good resistance. If the space between the lines could be more utilized and the final finish better, Napoli could be a surprise. In the end Barca is no match for Napoli because of the different qualities of the players. Three of Barca’s seven kicks resulted in goals, they were able to take advantage of various situations to score goals.


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