Napoli vs Barcelona 1-1: 3 standout players as Antoine Griezmann strike churns out crucial draw for visitors | UEFA Champions League 2019-20
- In a game of clutch moments, Mertens, Griezmann and Ter Stegen pulled of excellent performances to keep both teams aflot for the reverse leg
The away side opened the game with high-press. Quique Setien's show of intent made his midfielders press the Napoli backline with Arturo Vidal, Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets taking turns at running at the Kostas Manolas, Mario Rui and co. This evidently meant that Barcelona were susceptible to counter-attacks, and that came in the 30th minute of the game.
After Barcelona had dominated possession and tempo for most of the first half of the game, Napoli broke free with Piotr Zieliński winning the ball back from Junior Firpo and playing an incisive pass to Dries Mertens who was waiting on the right. Mertens, in a moment of absolute beauty, made Marc-Andre ter Stegen watch the ball curl past him into the top corner of the far post.
However, Napoli could not hold onto the lead in the second half and a Griezmann strike, several yellows and a red card later, Barcelona churned out a crucial 1-1 draw at the famed Stadio San Paolo.
On that note, here are the three standout players from tonight's game that sets up a well-poised clash at the Camp Nou on the 19th of March.
#1 Arturo Vidal
Arturo Vidal would probably be kicking himself (pretty ironic huh?) when his moment of madness earned him the second yellow card for something that was so easily avoidable.
After having an amazing game where despite playing at an unfamiliar position, Vidal terrorised the Napoli players with his relentless running and tackling. In the 89th minute, Vidal took out Mario Rui with a senseless dive and then got into a fight protesting about Rui's complaint about the challenge. The referee had no other choice but to show him a red.
Vidal's exclusion from the reverse leg essentially means that Barcelona are devoid of the engine that brings the x-factor in the team. With an ageing midfield that does passes slow and tracks back slower, Vidal is a vital cog in the key, a role that he pulled off seamlessly tonight in a tough away game.
#2 Marc-Andre ter Stegen
Marc-Andre ter Stegen is definitely one of Barcelona's top 3 players this season. Ter Stegen saved a shambolic Barcelona in their first Champions League outing against Borussia Dortmund and he did that again tonight, pulling off a couple of sharp saves from close proximity. Given the nature of the game, the German's miscalculations would have again brought back the infamous Barcelona folklore and horror of the away games in Champions League knockouts.
Ter Stegen was also crucial for Barcelona in playing out from the back. Taking a total of 21 touches in the match (6 fewer than Griezmann), Ter Stegen resisted pressing and kept possession when Barcelona needed it the most in the dying minutes of the game.
#3 Dries Mertens
Before Dries Mertens hobbled off the pitch after Sergio Busquets' rash tackle in the 54th minute, it would be an understatement to suggest that he and Lorenzo Insigne wreaked havoc in the Barcelona defence.
Every time Barcelona were hit on the break, Mertens and Insigne were there to either take the defenders on, or to hold play, waiting for the correct moment to unleash their lethal right foot.
If you are playing against Barcelona such moments are rare. And it did come, not once, but twice. The first one was absolutely buried by Mertens, who equalled Marek Hamsik record as Napoli's highest goalscorer.
He was forced to walk away from the match after he rammed his ankle into the high boot of the Barcelona midfield general and that was the precise moment the game changed. With Mertens gone Napoli will rest their hope on Arkadiusz Milik who also had a decent game once he came on.
At Camp Nou, Napoli going by their first-leg performance, would look forward to the width that the Blaugrana fortress offers. But it must not be forgotten that Barcelona have not lost a Champions League tie at home in almost seven years.
Published 26 Feb 2020, 06:20 IST