Napoli 1-1 Barcelona
Almost 60,000 fans packed into the Stadio San Paolo for Champions League Napoli vs Barcelona, and they witnessed a big performance from the hosts to earn a deserved draw against the La Liga leaders.
Dries Mertens opened the scoring for Napoli on the half-hour with a fine finish, but after he left the field injured, Antoine Griezmann equalised. Barca then went down to 10 men when Arturo Vidal saw red.
The pre-match Napoli vs Barcelona betting odds had the Catalans at 1.25 to advance to the quarter-finals, with Napoli at 3.85, and while those won’t change a great deal, Gli Azzurri are certainly still in it.
Highlights of the game
The first half couldn’t have gone much better for Napoli head coach Gennaro Gattuso.
Gli Azzurri have struggled to find consistency in defence during the long absence of centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly and he wasn’t ready for this big clash. But they did a more than decent job of keeping Barca quiet in the opening half.
Leo Messi scored four in Barcelona’s 5-0 destruction of Eibar at the weekend, but he struggled to create anything in the opening period, save for a shot over the bar after a smart one-two with Frenkie de Jong.
The hosts gave Barca a warning on 17 minutes when Jose Callejon’s cross took a touch off Junior Firpo, forcing Marc-Andre ter Stegen into a smart save low to his left.
But the Barca stopper was grasping at thin air when Mertens opened the scoring on 30 minutes, rounding off a fast break with a rasping shot into the top left corner.
The San Paolo crowd rose at half-time to salute a solid defensive show and a great goal, but they couldn’t have expected such a smooth ride in the second half.
Barca had no shots on target in the first half, but they made their mark early in the second, though it was with a tackle which left Napoli manager Gennaro Gattuso fuming.
Sergio Busquets caught Mertens with a nasty challenge, and the resulting yellow card means he’ll be out of the second leg. But Mertens was out of the first as he limped off and was replaced by Arkadiusz Milik.
And Gattuso’s mood became even darker soon after when Busquets launched the attack which produced an equaliser. He found the overlapping Nelson Semedo, whose low cross was blasted into the roof of the net by Griezmann.
Napoli fought back and ter Stegen had to be quick off the mark to block Callejon who was clean through. Soon after, Callejon was brought down in the area by Firpo, but the flag was already up for offside.
Finally, Messi came alive and started to threaten the Napoli rearguard, and Nikola Maksimovic had to make a crucial block. But neither side could grab the winner and Barca finished with 10 men as Arturo Vidal saw red.
He’ll be out of the second leg too after picking up two yellow cards, one for fouling Mario Rui, and a second for threatening the same player.
Napoli did well in the group stage, beating Liverpool on the way to qualification, and they put up a good fight here against one of the tournament favourites.
But Gli Azzurri have never reached the quarter-finals of this competition, while Barcelona have reached that stage in the last 12 seasons, a record run.
The Blaugrana have had the better of the Napoli vs Barcelona results over the past decade, winning three to Napoli’s one.
But Napoli have failed to score in only one of the last 21 Champions League games at the San Paolo, while Barca have won only one of their last nine away games in the knockout stage of the Champions League.
Dries Mertens has been directly involved in over 50 per cent of Napoli’s Champions League goals since 2017, scoring 16 and assisting 6 (22 from 43). And his first-half strike took him level with Marek Hamsik as Napoli’s all-time top goal-scorer on 121.
There are few bigger games than El Clasico, and that’s the big game on Sunday. What a clash we have in store as Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid host Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The Blaugrana are back at the top of the La Liga table after four consecutive wins and are two points ahead of Real Madrid. Los Blancos have dropped four points from the last two games.
There will be a white-hot atmosphere at the Bernabeu, as they know a win will take them back to the top. And of course, we’ll be previewing the big match here at SBOTOP and will be back again with all the best action after the game.
It’s a huge week for ZZ’s men as they have the small task of facing Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in the Champions League tomorrow night. That’s another game not to miss.
Meanwhile, Gli Azzurri have a chance to push on in Serie A. They are currently sixth and have a winnable home match against Torino on Sunday. Their visitors have slid down the table to 14th having suffered five defeats in the last six games.
Napoli then have another big game, hosting Inter Milan in the Coppa Italia semi-final second leg, with a one-goal lead to protect.
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