Barcelona beat Napoli 4-2 in their Europa League play-off second leg thanks to goals from Jordi Alba, Frenkie de Jong, Gerard Pique and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, securing their place in the round of 16 with a 5-3 aggregate win.
With Napoli coming into the game on the back of three 1-1 draws – including their determined rearguard action at Camp Nou in the first leg last week – and with the meanest defence in Serie A, it looked likely to be a tight, cagey affair at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona. Barring the first five minutes in which the two teams sized each other up, the reality was drastically different.
The visitors went ahead with nine minutes on the clock, counter-attacking at a Napoli corner through Aubameyang. He flicked the ball on to Adama Traore in front of him and, having left Amir Rrahmani in his wake, the on-loan Wolves winger set up Alba to lash past Alex Meret.
Barcelona were 2-0 up almost immediately, De Jong galloping forwards from midfield before curling one into the top corner from distance. Napoli had been caught cold, briefly leaving the home fans in disbelief before the stands began to echo with angry whistles.
Napoli were given a way back into the tie when, having sprinted onto a long ball up from the back, Victor Osimhen was brought down by Marc-Andre ter Stegen just inside the area. It was a needless mistake from Ter Stegen, with Osimhen already drifting wide, compounded when the Barcelona goalkeeper was easily beaten from the spot by Lorenzo Insigne.
The rest of the first half was played at a frantic pace, with both sides handing out scoring chances like confetti. The momentum swung back towards Barcelona just before half time, however, with a deflected cross from Alba falling for Pique who took a touch and thrashed a shot into the far corner.
While Napoli huffed and puffed in search of another goal after the restart, Barcelona killed the game midway through the second half when Traore cut in from the right flank and pinged a low cross along the edge of the area. A clever feint from De Jong allowed Aubameyang to hit it first time, rocketing a shot into the back of the net.
Though Insigne beat Ter Stegen on the volley with 20 minutes to go, he had strayed offside and the goal was disallowed. Matteo Politano went one better with five minutes left, capitalising on a mix-up in defence to score a consolation, but it was too little, too late for Napoli, with the final whistle marking the end of their European campaign.
Napoli’s defence falls to pieces. Given that his side have conceded 18 goals in Serie A all season, Luciano Spalletti will be left to wonder how his defence was taken apart with such ease.
While Kalidou Koulibaly was formidable as ever, if increasingly foul-prone as the game went on, Rrahmani was shrugged off by Traore in the lead up to the opening goal and seemed to lose his confidence. Mario Rui, meanwhile, was completely overrun in his battle with Traore out wide, with much of Barcelona’s attacking threat coming from their dominance of the right flank.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Adama Traore (Barcelona). While Traore got two assists, bullied his marker and established near-total superiority for Barcelona out on the right, that’s only half the story.
More than anything, with his muscular runs, irrepressible energy and eye for a killer final ball, this was a hugely watchable performance from the La Masia graduate. After a grim first half of the season, Barca needed someone to bring the excitement back to the side and, while he still has much to improve on, Traore fits the bill perfectly.
Napoli: Meret 5, Di Lorenzo 5, Rrahmani 4, Koulibaly 6, Mario Rui 3, Ruiz 5, Demme 4, Elmas 5, Zielinski 6, Insigne 7, Osimhen 7.
Subs: Politano 7, Mertens 5, Ounas 5, Ghoulam 5, Petagna N/A
Barcelona: Ter Stegen 5, Dest 7, Araujo 7, Pique 8, Alba 8, Pedri 7, Busquets 7, De Jong 8, Traore 9, Aubameyang 8, Torres 6
Subs: Gavi 6, Dembele 5, De Jong 5, Gonzalez 5, Puig N/A
9’ GOAL! We’ve got an early goal here and it’s gone the way of the visitors. After a spell of pressure from Napoli, Barcelona counter-attack from a corner and Aubameyang moves the ball forward to Traore. He goes past Rrahmani and picks out Alba to his right, with the Barca left-back lashing one past Meret.
13’ GOAL! What was that we said about this being a tight game? Barcelona go 2-0 up through De Jong, who curls one
into the top corner from outside the area.
20’ PENALTY SHOUT! Osimhen sprints onto a long ball from the back and Ter Stegen rushes off his line, catching him just inside the area. VAR will check this…
21’ PENALTY! Referee Sergei Karasev duly points to the spot. Insigne steps up to take it.
23’ GOAL! Insigne makes no mistake, sticking it low to Ter Stegen’s right. We’ve got a game on our hands.
45’ GOAL! Torres picks out Alba on the overlap and he pings a low cross to Pique on the edge of the area. Pique takes a touch, then thrashes a shot into the far corner. That could be a game changer.
59’ GOAL! Traore cuts in off the right flank and picks out Aubameyang, who leathers a first-time shot past Meret. That will surely decide the tie in Barcelona’s favour.
87’ GOAL! Napoli have a late consolation, Politano pouncing on a mix-up in defence to score.