Marc-Andre ter Stegen was the hero for Barcelona as they secured a 1-1 draw with Napoli in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg on Tuesday.
Barcelona enjoyed a swift start to the game, making full use of their quality in midfield and attack. They dominated the possession and probed the Napoli defence time and time again throughout the first quarter of the game. However, a resilient Napoli backline, operating in deep blocks rarely awarded them any space and time on the ball.
As a result, the Catalans found it difficult to find the back of the net. In fact, it was the home side who took the lead through an excellent finish from Dries Mertens. Barcelona did bounce back in the second half through a goal from Antoine Griezmann, although it was Sergio Busquets who really deserves the credit for his pass.
The Spanish giants looked much more confident after the goal and were finding a lot of spaces in the final third. But, they failed to breach the Napoli defence once again while some late drama saw Arturo Vidal receive back to back yellow cards while Gerard Pique had to leave the pitch after twisting his ankle.
And here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over the Barcelona side in their draw with the Partenopei.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen: 9/10
The German international once again showed why he is one of the best goalkeepers in the world by making a couple of fantastic saves to deny Napoli from extending their lead. Although ter Stegen was rarely tested, he stepped up to the plate whenever it was required.
His saves could turn out to be a huge factor should Napoli fail to break the shackles of the Barcelona defence in the next game. Meanwhile, ter Stegen’s distribution was also excellent.
Nelson Semedo: 8/10
With Barcelona lacking a proper winger on the right flank, Nelson Semedo played a balancing act by going forward and stationing himself in the opposition half when Barcelona were dominating. The Portuguese did actually do a great job and provided additional support to his teammates.
It was his run in behind the backline that allowed Busquets to find the pass and Semedo squared the ball to Antoine Griezmann for the equaliser. Defensively, he could have done a little better in dealing with the threat of Lorenzo Insigne.
Gerard Pique: 6.5/10
Pique had a relatively quiet game as he was barely tested throughout the first half. Perhaps he should have done a better job in marking players inside the box, especially in terms of set-pieces. For the majority of the game, however, he was seen moving up the pitch and distribute the ball. He was quite unlucky, though, as he twisted his ankle late in the game and was later taken off.
Samuel Umtiti 6/10
It wasn’t a disastrous defensive performance from Umtiti. But, the Frenchman simply needs to do a better job in imposing his physical and aerial ability inside his own half. Indeed, the ex-Lyon defender was beaten way too easily, at times.
Junior Firpo: 5.5/10
Junior Firpo was arguably the worst defender on the night for Barcelona. The former Real Betis full-back lacked any sense of positioning, and it was his poor touch that led to the Napoli goal, even though he was a bit unlucky as the ball was moving too fast.
Nevertheless, Firpo simply needs to improve his defensive positioning in the second leg if Barcelona are to have any hopes of advancing through to the next round.
Sergio Busquets: 8/10
Busquets was one of the best performers on the pitch against Napoli. The holding midfielder stayed deep and distributed possession all around the pitch. But, he also managed to find key passes in the final third, including an exquisite through ball to Semedo that led to the equaliser.
Defensively, Busquets made a couple of rash tackles and was rightly yellow carded, which means he will miss the second half. That would be a huge loss for Barcelona.
Ivan Rakitic: 5/10
Rakitic failed to influence the game in the first half. He was often bogged down by Napoli’s second line of press and was finding very difficult to create space in the final third. The Croat was later taken off, just before the hour mark.
Frenkie de Jong: 7/10
Much like Rakitic, de Jong wasn’t effective at all in the first half as he mostly hovered around the final third without being offered any space and time. After the goal, however, the Dutchman began to improve and was involved in a host of counter-attacks from Barcelona.
Arturo Vidal: 7/10
Vidal deserves a lot of credit for his determination and willingness to close down defenders. Even though the Chilean failed to offer any direct threat to the Napoli defence, his aggression and physicality made it difficult for Napoli to maintain their stability at the back.
That being said, the midfielder made a rash tackle late in the game while his reaction afterwards earned him back to back yellow cards. He was sent off and will now join Busquets in Barcelona’s list of absentees in the second leg.
Arturo Vidal lost his cool and got sent off at the end of Napoli vs. Barcelona, then had a fan point a laser pen at him on his way out pic.twitter.com/LecO0qMLi8
— B/R Football (@brfootball) February 26, 2020
Lionel Messi: 7.5/10
Messi was unsurprisingly the most active player in the Barcelona attack throughout the course of the game. Operating in a more central role, the Argentine clearly lacked the support of Luis Suarez. But, he still tried to spark things up in the final third and was even close to finding the back of the net once.
In that instance, however, Messi was a bit unlucky to receive a yellow card when he collided with David Ospina even though he simply had to go for the ball.
Antoine Griezmann: 6/10
Griezmann was completely ineffective against Napoli. The Frenchman failed to get involved in the proceedings for the majority of the game. Barcelona, in that regard, were clearly missing the directness of Ousmane Dembele on the flanks.
But, football is all about the goals. And Griezmann took full use of his opportunity to score the all-important equaliser which hands Barcelona a massive boost in the second leg.
Arthur Melo: 7.5/10
Arthur Melo’s introduction added more flair to the Barcelona midfield. The Brazilian was much more competent than Rakitic, and it showed, as the visitors dominated the game after his arrival.
Ansu Fati: N/A
Replaced the ineffective Griezmann in the 87th minute. One could argue that the youngster should have been introduced much earlier. His pace could have been useful against someone like Giovanni Di Lorenzo or Mario Rui.
Clement Lenglet: N/A
Replaced Pique after he twisted his ankle late in the game. The Frenchman is now almost a guaranteed starter in El Clasico.