Barcelona have it all to do if they’re to progress to the quarter-final of the Europa League after they were held to a goalless draw by a resilient Galatasaray at Camp Nou.
Xavi’s side were hoping to extend their winning streak to five games, but the form book went out the window as Galatasaray – who are in the bottom half of their domestic league – played admirably to hold the Catalans to a stalemate in the first leg of their last-16 tie.
Barcelona dominated but couldn’t translate their possession and pressure into the hard currency of goals.
Having restricted their illustrious opponents to a couple of half-chances in the opening 45 minutes, the visitors only grew in confidence and posed a threat on the counterattack, often led by Kerem Akturkoglu.
The 23-year-old went close to opening the scoring in spectacular fashion after a magnificent solo run but saw his shot deflected agonisingly over the bar.
In a bid to spark a much-needed improvement in his side’s performance, Xavi made a triple change at the break, introducing Ousmane Dembele, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets.
The switch in personnel and tactics allowed the hosts to play 20 yards further up the pitch as they upped the ante in search of an opener. But it didn’t come despite their best efforts.
Jordi Alba’s volley whistled just wide of the post and an acrobatic effort by substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang struck Frenkie de Jong and clattered against the post.
Committing so many bodies forward comes with a risk and the visitors thought they had a crucial goal in the tie when Bafetimbi Gomis converted from close range, but his celebrations were cut short when the offside flag was raised.
Neither side could find a breakthrough in a tense conclusion, but the Turkish giants will undoubtedly be the happier side as they look forward to welcoming Barcelona to Istanbul next Thursday.
TALKING POINT – BARCELONA NEED TO FIND A HIGHER GEAR IN SECOND LEG
Xavi’s decision to rest some of his big-hitters – most notably Dembele, Busquets and Aubameyang – will be questioned after a below-par performance. Barcelona failed to get into any kind of rhythm on a largely forgettable night for the Catalans. They lacked urgency, creativity and the movement needed to break down a stubborn and well-disciplined defence.
Having been held to a draw at Camp Nou by Napoli in the next round only to dismantle the Serie A title challengers in the second leg, Barcelona will not lose any faith in their chances of reaching the last-eight of a competition they’re ranked as favourites in. However, they will need to find a higher gear when they step into the cauldron of Galatasaray’s home patch next Thursday.
The Turkish giants may be having a nightmare domestically, but they’re unbeaten in Europe this season and topped a group featuring Lazio and Marseille. Barcelona will have their work cut out.
MAN OF THE MATCH – SACHA BOEY (GALATASARAY)
All of Galatasaray’s back four were outstanding but Boey, with his tireless running and total commitment to the cause, just shades it. The full-back handled the pace and intensity of Dembele perfectly, hardly putting a foot wrong all night.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen 6, Dest 6, Araujo 5, Garcia 6, Alba 5, Gonzalez 5, F de Jong 6, Pedri 6, Traore 7, Torres 6, Depay 6.. subs: Dembele 6, Pique 6, Busquets 6, Aubameyang 6, L de Jong 5.
Galatasaray: Pena 7, Boey 8*, Nelsson 8, Marcao 8, van Aanholt 7, Kutlu 8, Antalyali 7, Babel 6, Feghouli 6, Akturkoglu 8, Mohamed 6.. subs: Gomis 5, Kilinc 5, Cicaldau N/A, Yilmaz N/A.
36′ – WHAT AN EFFORT! Akturkoglu drifts between Dest and de Jong as he drives Galatasaray forward, running easily
30 yards. He cuts inside to narrow the angle and curls a shot at goal… this is close… but it takes a deflection and drifts agonisingly over the bar. What a goal that would have been.
75′ – OFF THE POST! Traore’s cross picks out Aubameyang, he tries the spectacular but his acrobatic volley hits de Jong – he doesn’t know much about it and it crashes off the post before the grateful Pena claims.
78′ – GALATASARAY HAVE THE BALL IN THE BACK OF THE NET… But it’s not going to count! Gomis’ celebrations are cut short by the officials – he’s marginally offside, confirmed following a VAR check.