Barcelona's away misery could prove costly in their quest for European glory | Champions League 2019-20
- Barcelona have been poor away from home in the Champions League knockout stages and this could harm their chances of success.
It is no hidden secret that Barcelona are desperate to lift the Champions League, having failed to win it since 2015. Their latest assault on the competition saw them comfortably top their group for the 13th consecutive season but as everybody knows, the group stage has never been the Blaugrana's problem.
Barcelona's journey to last season's semi-final ended a disappointing sequence that saw them eliminated in the quarterfinal for three years in a row but as evidenced by their performances this season, they would be lucky to get so far.
Captain Lionel Messi recently admitted that Barcelona are beneath the levels required to win the Champions League and the Argentine international was brutally honest in his remarks.
There are at least five sides on the continent who would not be scared of squaring off with the Catalans in their current form and this does not bode well for their aspirations, as having a fear factor is integral to success in elite competitions.
That they failed to get the better of a Napoli side who, although have improved in recent weeks, still find themselves nine points outside the top four in the Italian Serie A is alarming. The Pertenopei have lost six of their 12 games at home domestically but they limited the effectiveness of Barcelona and made the Estadio San Paolo look like a fortress on the night, with their deep-lying defence proving too much for their visitors to handle.
Napoli had 11 men behind the ball for over an hour of the match but despite this, they still fashioned the best chances of the match and had Jose Callejon been as clinical as Dries Mertens, they would have ended the night with a more significant advantage to take to the Nou Camp.
Antoine Griezmann's goal was the only shot on target that Quique Setien's side managed for 90 minutes and while many might draw parallels to Liverpool's 1-0 loss to Atletico Madrid, this is only a superficial comparison at best.
For starters, the Atletico defence is a well-drilled machine that has been coached into an impenetrable fortress over the last few years and can be considered as one of the best defensive units in history, while Napoli are anything but.
The Pertenopei have conceded 35 goals from 25 league matches, while Atletico have let in just 18 from the same number of games, so Liverpool's result against one of Europe's best sides is not the disaster many are painting it to be.
Furthermore, the Reds have posted impressive victories away to Manchester City, Porto, and Bayern Munich over the last two years, so their loss in Madrid can be considered a one-off but sadly for Barcelona fans, this latest setback in Naples follows a running theme in recent times.
In that three-year run that saw them eliminated in the quarterfinal, Barcelona lost away to Atletico Madrid, Juventus, and AS Roma, failing to score in each, and if you factor in their harrowing defeats to PSG and Liverpool in the Round-of-16 and semifinal of 2017 and 2019 respectively, it means that the Catalans lost these five matches by an aggregate scoreline of 16-0.
This is rather poor for a side that had the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luis Suarez, and Andres Iniesta and their 1-0 win over Manchester United last year is the only victory gotten in their last nine away knockout matches, with draws recorded against Lyon, Napoli, and Chelsea.
Since their 3-0 win over Bayern Munich in April 2015, Barcelona have scored just three away goals in the knockout stage. Three goals in five years (with two of those scored by Messi) for a side that has boasted the attacking firepower of the Blaugrana is simply criminal.
A cursory look at the Napoli team that started against the Catalans last night would reveal that apart from Kostas Manolas, none of the other defenders are fully established at international level and even in the absence of their best defender, a side with the worst defence in the top nine of Serie A was made to look impenetrable by a toothless Barcelona attack.
However, it is not all doom and gloom for the LaLiga champions and their form at home is truly frightening as they are currently on a record-breaking run of going 35 games without defeat at their home stadium since 2013.
Barcelona almost always get the job done in front of their fans but as Roma and Liverpool have shown in the last two years, their atrocious away performances mean that there is no advantage too great to be overturned.
Fans have endured a five-year wait for Champions League glory but if their side do not drastically improve on their away performances, their wait might have to go on a bit longer.
Published 26 Feb 2020, 18:01 IST