Napoli 1-1 Barcelona: 5 Talking Points | UEFA Champions League 2019-20
- Five talking points from Barcelona's stalemate with Napoli at the Estadio San Paolo
Goals from Dries Mertens and Antoine Griezmann settled a keenly contested Champions League clash in Naples, ensuring that Napoli and Barcelona were not separated after 90 minutes.
The hosts have overcome their disastrous start to the campaign and came into the fixture on a good run of form, while Barcelona have also impressed recently and reclaimed top spot in LaLiga from Real Madrid over the weekend.
Given their pedigree, Barcelona were installed as heavy favourites in the tie and this much was evident, with Napoli content to sit back and try to catch the Catalans on the counter.
This worked excellently and they fashioned some notable chances in the first half, while also neutralizing the threat of Barcelona. Dries Mertens capped off an excellent team move with an even better finish to put his side ahead and draw level with former skipper Marek Hamsik as Napoli's record goalscorer.
The second half begun in the same fashion but Barcelona finally found a chink in the Pertenopei rearguard and Griezmann was on hand to score his second Champions League goal of the campaign when he stroked home a center by Nelson Semedo past David Ospina.
Despite this sucker punch, Napoli stuck to their gameplan and got another good chance after a lightning break but Jose Callejon wasted his second presentable opportunity of the night as he shot straight at Marc-Andre ter Stegen when through one-on-one.
From then on, it became something of a chess match with both sides canceling each other out, although tensions boiled over towards the end of the match.
The tie is firmly in the balance, with all to play for in the second leg and here, we shall be highlighting five talking points from the fixture.
#5 Napoli almost execute perfect gameplan
When Barcelona are in top form, there is almost no stopping them and few managers have the wherewithal to come up with tactics to stop them.
In the buildup to the game, Napoli coach Genaro Gattuso talked up the qualities of Lionel Messi and said despite his magical attributes, it was pointless and impossible trying to stop him and he would rather focus on the collective.
The former midfielder stuck true to his words and his selection and tactics on the night laid credence to his claims.
Rather than try to play Barcelona at their game, Gattuso recognized his side's limitations and selected players who could get the result for him, choosing Diego Demme over the more flamboyant and aesthetic Allan, while Piotr Zielinski and Fabian Rui completed the compact midfield three.
The trio gave a performance that their manager would have been proud of in his playing days, while Kostas Manolas acted as the defensive lynchpin in the absence of the ever-reliable Kalidou Koulibaly.
In what was almost a mirror image of the Liverpool-Atletico clash, Barcelona had all the possession but rarely troubled Ospina and failed to register a single shot on target in the first half.
However, sticking to such gameplan requires optimum concentration for 90 minutes and beyond but unlike Diego Simeone's side, Napoli slipped and Barcelona were on hand to take advantage in a heartbeat, with Griezmann's goal giving them a lifeline heading to Camp Nou.