Barcelona vs Napoli 1-1: Zielinski Strike Scares the Camp Nou

Good job, Napoli. The Partenopei held their own at the Camp Nou against a Barcelona side who found themselves to play an Europa League game for the first time in 18 years. They took the lead with a Piotr Zielinski strike but had to concede a spot-kick equalizer when the VAR picked a Juan Jesus handball in the box.

Sure, Napoli were dangerously caught short of breath in the final stages of the game and, perhaps, if the match lasted a little longer Barca would have had their second. But that doesn’t take anything away from Luciano Spalletti’s boys’ sumptuous performance – which puts them in a good position as they prepare to receive the Spanish powerhouse at home next week.

Xavi Hernadez was eager to honor this unusual Europa League test and to show his new jewels. All his three strikers – Ferran Torres, Pierre-Eimerick Aubameyang and Adama Traoré – joined the Blaugrana in the January transfer market.

Spalletti, on the other hand, had most of his roster at disposal save for left-back Mario Rui who was not in the best shape. In his place, Spalletti moved Juan Jesus from his usual center back position.

Barcelona’s game-plan was clear from the start – pressing hard and forcing the Napoli defense into mistakes. They also resorted to ball possession as coach Xavi Hernandez knows a few things about it…). The Partenopei‘s approach was more leaning on long balls in an attempt to reach Victor Osimhen upfront.

The first shot was for Barca as, on 15 minutes, Alex Meret had to punch away a Nico Gonzalez effort. Overall, the Napoli keeper did much better with his hands than with his feet, as a couple of risky passes of his sent a shiver down his teammates’ backs.

Spalletti’s plan of playing along the offside line seemed to work as a Piotr Zielinski fast break triggered Osimhen, who saw his shot saved by Marc-André Ter Stegen.

Napoli risked a lot on 27 minutes as Amir Rrhamani failed to intercept a pass for Pierre-Eymerick Aubameyang, who in turn served Ferran Torres. Good for the Partenopei that the former Manchester City man squandered a gigantic chance as he sent his shot crashing into the stands of the Camp Nou.

It was a mistake that was soon punished. Just two minutes later, Zielinski shocked the Blaugrana supporters, receiving from Elif Elmas on the edge of the box and being quick to tap the ball in after his first conclusion was saved by the goalkeeper. 

Barcelona increased the pressure after the restart. Napoli were pegged back into their own half and the home side had their equalizer when a Traoré cross from the right flank found Juan Jesus’s hand in the middle of the box. The referee didn’t notice it but the VAR was merciless and awarded Barcelona a penalty. From the spot, Ferran Torres came up with a perfect conversion and scored his second goal since he joined the Blaugrana

Xavi wanted to win it and increased the offensive pressure with a triple substitution that brought into play Sergio Busquets, Gavi and Ousmane Dembélé. Spalletti, on the other hand, started to realized that perhaps salvaging one point at the Camp Nou was not a bad idea and pulled out his offensive terminal Osimhen.

He didn’t completely renounce to attack though, as exemplified by bringing in Adam Ounas for a listless Lorenzo Insigne. But even if Napoli hoped to punish Barcelona on the counter, they quickly realized they had to switch all their efforts towards surviving the Blaugrana‘s late challenges – as their pressure increased by the minute. 

The Partenopei literally ended the game with no fuel in the tank and they had to thank Ferran Torres for not being in one of his best days if they could came back home with at least one point. Save for the converted spot-kick, Barcelona’s new joiner had a terrible night and failed two more favorable chances before full time.

Luuk De Joing did better than him in just a few minutes, coming up with a spectacular overhead kick minutes after setting foot on the pitch. Once again, the target was not hit but it was another scare for Napoli, who ended with one man less after Fabian Ruiz sacrificed himself bumping his head into Gavi’s to clear a dangerous ball away from his box.

That was the perfect image of Napoli’s game. They clung to this draw with all their forces and, next  Thursday, they might be set for an upset as they welcome the Blaugrana at the Diego Maradona Stadium.  



February 17, 2022 – UEFA Europa League 2021-22 Round of 32

SCORERS: 29′ Zielinski (N), 58′ Ferran Torres (B, pen.)

BARCELONA (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Mingueza (82′ Dest), Piqué, Eric Garcia, Jordi Alba; Nico Gonzalez (65′ Gavi), F. De Jong (65′ Busquets), Pedri; Traoré (65′ st Dembélé), Aubameyang (86′ L. De Jong), Ferran Torres (Neto, Tenas, Ricard Puig, Braithwaite) Coach: Xavi
NAPOLI (4-2-3-1): Meret; Di Lorenzo, Koulibaly, Rrahmani, Juan Jesus; Fabian Ruiz, Aguissa (84′ Malcuit); Elmas (85′ Mario Rui), Zielinski (80′ Demme), Insigne (82′ Ounas); Osimhen (70′ Mertens) (Ospina, Idasiak, Ghoulam, Petagna, Zanoli) Coach: Spalletti

REFEREE: Kovacs (Romania)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Anguissa, Fabian Ruiz, Meret (N); Added Time: 1st Half 2′, 2nd Half 6′