Barcelona vs Napoli. UEFA Champions League First Knockout Round.
Lionel Messi's magic to the fore in a VAR-frenzy of a first half; Barcelona to face Bayern in Champions League quarter-finals
Sunday 9 August 2020 09:22, UK
Barcelona set up a mouth-watering Champions League quarter-final clash with Bayern Munich after beating Napoli 3-1 to progress 4-2 on aggregate.
After surrendering rather meekly to Real Madrid in the La Liga title race, the Champions League is Barcelona's only hope of a trophy this season and Clement Lenglet got them off to the perfect start by heading home a Ivan Rakitic corner (10).
Lionel Messi then came to the party with a sumptuous effort (23) and had one chalked off harshly by VAR for handball.
The Argentine then won a penalty for his side, aided by VAR which led the referee to take a second look at the incident on the touchline monitor. Luis Suarez knocked home the penalty (45+1) before Lorenzo Insigne capped off an intense first 45 minutes by scoring from the spot himself (45+5).
Napoli needed to score twice to keep their Champions League dream alive but despite showing plenty of endeavour and having a goal ruled out for offside by Arkadiusz Milik, the Italians could not find a way past a hard-working Barcelona side.
Barca will play Bayern at the Estadio da Luz on Friday, August 14 in a one-legged shootout to reach the semi-finals.
It had been almost half a year since these two played out an edgy 1-1 draw in the first leg in Naples, which left this clash delicately poised. Since then, Barcelona had surrendered the La Liga title to Real Madrid and Napoli stuttered to a seventh-placed finish in Serie A.
Barcelona started without much zip and rhythm in an eerily empty Nou Camp and Napoli produced the early front-foot football. A lazy defensive clearance from Gerard Pique dropped to Dries Mertens inside 90 seconds but his effort wasn't clearly struck from 12 yards out and looped back off the outside of the post with Marc-Andre Ter Stegen merely a spectator.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen (6), Semedo (6), Pique (6), Lenglet (7), Alba (7), Rakitic (7), De Jong (6), Roberto (7), Griezmann (6), Suarez (7), Messi (8)
Subs: Firpo (N/A)
Napoli: Ospina (6), Manolas (6), Koulibaly (5), Mario Rui (6), Fabian (6), Demme (6), Zielinski (6), Callejon (6), Mertens (7), Insigne (7)
Subs: Lozano (5), Milik (6), Lobotka (6), Politano (6)
Man of the Match: Lionel Messi
Napoli were left to rue that opportunity as Barcelona grabbed the all-important opener on 10 minutes. The Napoli defence will still be wondering how Lenglet became free from eight yards out following a Rakitic corner. He didn't waste the opportunity, powering a header into the far corner with Napoli appealing for a foul on Kalidou Koulibaly that wasn't there.
The goal settled Barcelona into their stride as Messi took centre stage. There looked little danger when he picked up the ball on the corner of the penalty area surrounded by four Napoli players, but he managed to wriggle his way into the area. And despite losing his footing, he managed to regain his composure to curl a majestic finish into the far corner.
Napoli were now just spectators in the Messi show as he thumped home from close range following a superb Frenkie De Jong cross. However, VAR - after three minutes of deliberation - decided that the ball brushed off Messi's arm before he stroked home and ruled out the goal.
The score remained 2-0 but only for a few minutes with Messi once again playing a huge role in Barca's third goal.
Koulibaly was caught napping by Messi inside his own box and cleared out the forward by kicking through his lower leg. Initially, the referee waved played on but VAR stepped in to advise the referee to head over to the pitch side monitor to review the decision. The replays clearly showed the foul by Koulibaly and Suarez, with Messi receiving treatment, smashed home the penalty.
The three-goal cushion only lasted three minutes though with Napoli keeping themselves within touching distance by winning a penalty right on the stroke of half-time. Mertens was clipped by Rakitic inside the box and Insigne found the bottom corner from the spot.
Napoli required a two-goal salvo and gave the steep challenge a good go in a second-half showing that would have pleased manager Gennaro Gattuso.
Hirving Lozano headed over from 12 yards with his first touch off the bench before fellow substitute Krystian Milik did find the net from a similar position but his celebrations were cut short by an offside flag that spotted his was half a yard offside.
It was a case of job done for Barcelona but a tougher test awaits next Friday.
Who else? We've come to a stage in Messi's Barcelona career where he is truly indispensable to this side. Before, there has been a Xavi or an Andres Iniesta to shoulder the burden but Messi is a one-man band these days. It's almost like he's wearing an Argentina shirt such is the pressure on his shoulders to be the man to make a difference. Without him, Barcelona wouldn't have won this match.
Staggeringly, Barcelona had just seven shots on goal in this encounter with Messi's influence in the final third absolutely massive. He made something out of nothing to double the lead for his side with a classic Messi finish before his tenacity won the penalty for the all-but match ending third goal.
The timing for Koulibaly to have a howler couldn't have come at a worse time or on a worse stage. The defender is one of the hottest properties in Europe, with his commanding performances over the past few seasons in Naples seeing him linked with Manchester City, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain.
Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis has said the club would laugh off any offer below £60m and, instead, value him at around £90m. Well, on this performance no elite side is going to fork out that sort of money in this current financial climate. He rarely looked comfortable in possession throughout, summed up by an inexplicable 50-yard pass that went so wide of its target it went out for the corner that led to the opening Barcelona goal.
It was Koulibaly that was supposed to be marking Lenglet from that set piece, too. As the Barcelona man headed home the Napoli defender was on the floor having been blocked off by Suarez too easily. Things were about to get worse.
His dallying on the ball allowed Messi to nip in and his clumsy challenge through the back of him allowed Barcelona to extend their lead from the spot. A night to forget for the 29-year-old.
Sunday, August 23
Winners of SF1 vs Winners of SF2 (Estadio da Luz)