Napoli 1 - 1 Barcelona : Déjà Vu Tale of Preparation without Execution

Barcelona have to settle for the shared spoils...
SSC Napoli v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League
SSC Napoli v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League / Anadolu/GettyImages

Draws in any set of matches always leave a side full of regrets along with thoughts of " what if ", and with how Barcelona's first leg round of 16 Champions League clash with Napoli turned out, it's more of the same.

Barça and Napoli came into this tie with the understanding that a deep Champions League run was the only way for both teams to salvage any goods from this season. Napoli 9th in Serie A and Barça 3rd in La Liga, have both been a disappointment in their respective league title defences and were looking to turn it around on Wednesday's Champions League first leg meeting.

First Half

Barça started off the match with a rhythm and flow that warranted multiple goals early in the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium. Napoli could not cope with the high pressure coming from Xavi's men which was relentless in the opening stages.

Long-range strikes from Lamine Yamal and İlkay Gündoğan, coupled with a close net attempt by Robert Lewandowski had the Napoli team and fans alike stunned. Napoli was incapable of creating any chances at all in the first 45, with Araújo picking up the task of marking the Nigerian sensation Victor Osimhen and performing admirably, Napoli remained very quiet.

But as the time in the first half began to wane, the air in the stadium had tilted. Every missed chance from Barcelona, allowed Napoli to keep their heads above water, chance after chance Barça was wasteful with possession and headed into halftime with the same score as the match's beginnings.

Second Half

As soon as the referee blew his whistle for the start of the second half, Napoli were surging with energy and life that had been missing all game. They began pressing high in the final hard, hoping to capitalize off the shaky performance of Andreas Christensen, who seemed ill-suited to play the role of a defensive midfielder.

However, the control of possession finally paid off in the 60th minute when Barça broke through on the scoreboard. An impeccable pass from Pedri through the legs of Napoli's Amir Rrahmani found Lewandowski inside the box, and in classic Robert Lewandowski fashion placed the ball in the bottom left corner putting the Blaugrana into the lead.

Robert Lewandowski
Lewandowski Goal: SSC Napoli v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League 2023/24 / Pedro Salado/GettyImages

In what looked like an uplifting moment, Barça, as this season has shown when they take the lead, became complacent in their approach. It was almost as if they had scored a " golden goal " and already secured their tickets to the quarter-finals.

This would come to bite Barça in the back, as in the 75th minute, Victor Osimhen would score the equalizing goal. In a demonstration of pure physical strength, he rode off the challenge of Barça's Iñigo Martínez and slotted the ball into the net with ease.

Victor Osimhen
Osimhen Goal: SSC Napoli v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League 2023/2024 / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

Napoli proceeded to dominate the last quarter of the match and looked to steal a win heading into the second leg. The notable substitutions of Jesper Lindstrøm, Giacomo Raspadori, and Giovanni Simeone instilled Napoli with a lightning flash of energy that put Barça on the ropes defensively.

In the final moments of additional time, Barça would find themselves with one last opportunity to take a win back home to Barcelona. Gündoğan had a great opportunity right outside the box which narrowly missed the graze of the bottom left corner.

All to play for in Barcelona

The glooming night of a draw in Naples has its problems, but all is not lost yet. With the return leg heading back to Barcelona on March 12th, there's plenty of time for head coach Xavi Hernández to adjust his tactical approach.

Lewandowski's good run of form has been carrying the squad's offensive power, Vitor Roque should be in a prime position to remove some of that burden on him. Roque was an unused sub against Napoli, and Xavi should be keen to give the Brazilian a chance in the second leg given his tremendous scoring instincts.

This tie is almost impossible to predict given the inconsistencies of both teams. However, one thing is certain, the Olympic Stadium will witness a spectacle of a match, where both teams can't afford to be eliminated. It is the biggest game of the season for Barça, defeat will not be acceptable by any means.