Napoli held firm to play out a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou against Barcelona in their Europa League knockout playoff, despite the home side having the better chances.
Napoli got the first goal of the tie in the 29th minute as Piotr Zielinski smashed an effort on the rebound into the roof of the net from inside the box after his initial shot was saved by Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Barcelona were then awarded a penalty in the 59th minute following a VAR check after Juan Jesus handled the ball in the box.
Ferran Torres made no mistake and buried the spot kick to Alex Meret’s right to put the Blaugrana back on level terms.
Tiredness set in for Luciano Spalletti’s side as the game went on and they invited pressure from Barcelona by sitting deep.
However, despite the one-way traffic in the dying moments, which saw some key chances spurned by Barcelona, Napoli held on for a draw with the tie now nicely balanced heading into the second leg.
TALKING POINT – BARCELONA DESERVED MORE
Xavi will be in two minds about what happened at Camp Nou this evening. On one hand, he will be delighted at how his side played in the second half, but on the other, he will be bitterly disappointed to walk away with just a draw. That leaves this knockout playoff tie on a knife edge ahead of the reverse fixture at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium on 24 February.
The Blaugrana amassed a total of 21 shots, compared to just four for Napoli. Judging by their expected goals output of 2.03 xG, numerous good chances were created that could not be capitalised on. Many of those came in the last 10 minutes of the game.
Two big opportunities fell to Ferran Torres, who, on the whole, will be disappointed with his performance tonight despite scoring the penalty to secure the draw.
Both chances saw him strike the ball over the bar from inside the box and they have to go down as poor misses. In total, only one of his nine shots were on target.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH – KALIDOU KOULIBALY
The Napoli centre-back was outstanding for his club this evening, putting in another top class performance at the heart of defence to help his side secure the draw at Camp Nou.
His best moment of the match came in the first half, when he made a potentially goal-saving tackle on Ferran Torres in the 31st minute.
In addition to that, Koulibaly made two successful dribbles, won his only aerial duel and, most impressively, won all three of his tackles.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen 6, Mingueza 7, Pique 6, Garcia 7, Alba 6, Nico 7, F. de Jong 6, Pedri 7, Traore 6, Aubameyang 6, Torres 6. Subs: Dest 6, Gavi 6, Busquets 6, L. de Jong 6, Dembele 7.
Napoli: Meret 7, Jesus 6, Koulibaly 7, Rrahmani 6, Di Lorenzo 7, Anguissa 7, Ruiz 6, Insigne 6, Zielinski 7, Elmas 6, Osimhen 6. Subs: Rui 6, Demme 6, Malcuit 6, Mertens 6, Ounas 6.
27’ – WHAT A MISS! – Ferran Torres with a shocking miss! Aubameyang is played in behind by Pedri from midfield, before laying off Torres in space in the centre. The Barcelona attacker is one-on-one with Meret, but he skies his effort over the bar!
29’ – GOAL! (Piotr Zielinski) – Zielinski puts Napoli in front! Elmas does brilliantly on the right to shift the ball to his left foot before cutting the ball back for the Polish midfielder. His first effort is saved by Ter Stegen, but the rebound falls kindly to him again and he makes no mistake second time around and smashes the ball into the roof of the net! After a quick VAR check for offside in the build-up, the goal stands!
59’ – GOAL! (Ferran Torres penalty) – A really coolly taken penalty by Ferran Torres! He slots it into the bottom-left corner and Meret is completely wrong-footed. We’re back level – game on!
88’ – WHAT A CHANCE FOR BARCELONA! – Dembele beats his defender before finding Pedri in the box. The starlet cleverly backheels to Torres, but once again the finish is all wrong from the former Manchester City man and it sails over the bar!