Barcelona 3-1 Napoli: The good, the bad, and the baffling

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Leo Messi, Barcelona
Leo Messi celebrates his wonder goal for Barcelona against Napoli in their Champions League round of sixteen second leg match. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY UEFA.

Barcelona secured their place in the last eight of the Champions League with a victory at home to Napoli yesternight.

It was a game of two contrasting halves. The Blaugrana were very good in the first, but below par in the second.

Goals from Clement Lenglet, Leo Messi, and Luis Suarez from the spot in the first half proved to be enough on the night.

Here’s who/what was good, bad, and what was absolutely baffling.

Good: Leo Messi

Perhaps at some point in the future when Leo Messi retires, we will look back and realize just how ridiculous a player he is.

From the first whistle, he played with purpose, intense intent, and sent a firm message “I’m here to win”.

He went on to play perhaps the best 45 minutes of many other footballing careers, but a mundane one by his standards. He took on Neapolitan defenders for fun, sat them down, then took a seat himself before firing past Ospina in goal.

The little magic man scored another brilliant goal which was ruled out by VAR and then won a penalty with a fantastic bit of pressing but at some personal cost.

He caught Kalidou Koulibaly out and the defender ended up catching him with a brutal kick in the process.

Suarez converted the penalty and Messi carried on for Barcelona, as he always does. The Messidependencia requires Leo to be at his best every game for Barcelona to have a chance.

He almost always is.

Good: Frenkie De Jong

Frenkie De Jong, Barcelona
Frenkie De Jong in action for Barcelona against Napoli in their Champions League Round of 16 second-leg match. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY BARCA BLAUGRANES.

Frenkie De Jong was perhaps the best player for the Blaugrana on the night bar Leo Messi. He was everywhere taking Napoli on, pressing, passing between the opposition lines and calmly distributing the ball to the right option every time.

His decision making on the night was a testament to his solid footballing education at Ajax. The one player on the night whose first instinct wasn’t “Where is Messi?” but rather “Where is the best option?”

He was robbed of a delightful assist by VAR, but his performance was undeniably brilliant, and timely as well. Barcelona will need him to replicate this sort of form against Bayern Munich.

Barca won and Frenkie coloured football.

Bad: VAR

There were a couple of dubious decisions on the night. Lenglet’s goal was allowed to stand after a clear push in the build-up. Messi’s second was disallowed for an insignificant handball.

They took forever to decide that Koulibaly had conceded a penalty when it was clear to anyone watching what the correct decision was.

VAR needs to do better.

Bad: Ivan Rakitic 

In the absence of Sergio Busquets, the Croat stepped up to fill his boots. He won’t have covered himself in glory after that performance. He was a stark contrast to his midfield counterpart. Uninspiring with his passing and slow in possession.

Perhaps not helped by the lack of pressing from the forwards, Barca’s midfield were almost overwhelmed. But as Frenkie thrived under this pressure, Rakitic all but crumbled.

An uncharacteristic disasterclass.

Baffling: Quique Setien

Barcelona’s Spanish coach Quique Setien (L) sits on the bench at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY LLUIS GENE/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES.

Barcelona might have won on the night, but they don’t have their manager to thank for success. His team selection was suspect, and his in-game management terrible.

The omission of in-form Riqui Puig was questionable and the Blaugrana lacked the sort of intensity in the middle of the park that the little Spaniard provides.

In the second half, he watched on as Napoli exploited the spaces behind his men and bafflingly refused to provide an outlet. Fresh, pacy forwards were required on the counter but Setien was content to watch Suarez and Griezmann kill attack after attack.

His changes came late and were unconventional. Had Messi played a different first half, Barcelona would have lost that game.

Bailed out yet again.

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