Napoli faced Barcelona for the first-ever time in the Europa League with Barcelona being in the middle of a major transition and one of their worst-performing seasons in recent history.
The financial crisis brought on by the pandemic coupled with the gross mismanagement of the Catalan club had propelled the club in a direction where it had to let go of many of his stalwarts like Luis Suarez and Antione Greizmann.
It was, however, the departure of Lionel Messi that had the biggest effect on and off the field. The Argentine superstar was the fulcrum of Barcelona’s gameplay and almost single-handedly kept Barcelona competitive with his mesmerizing gameplay, assists, and goals. So, with his departure, it was seen that Barcelona was struggling immensely.
After Ronald Koeman’s reign ended, Xavi was brought in as the manager and reinforced with the January signings of Davi Alves, Ferran Torres, and Aubameyang, he has tried to make Barcelona competitive again.
What Napoli faced over two legs in Barcelona and Naples was further evidence of Barcelona’s improvement under Xavi.
Even though the first leg ended with one goal apiece but Barcelona had 21 attempts and could have won by a larger margin had it not been for some poor finishing.
In the second leg though, Barcelona coupled their fluid gameplay with the finishing to match and won handsomely 4-2. Barcelona outshot Napoli 16 to 7 and were by far the better side.
Napoli were second across both legs and Napoli forward Dries Mertens admitted at the end of the game that Napoli probably didn’t expect Barcelona to be as good as they were after Messi had left for PSG.
While speaking with DAZN after the end of the game, Mertens said, “You’d think that if Messi leaves, there would be no Barcelona anymore. But no, they still play great”.
Barcelona proved across both legs that the Catalan spirit of the game is still alive and well, especially under the management of Xavi. Barcelona were fluid with quick passes and interchanging positions and looked like the Barcelona of the yesteryears which they were with Messi.
Dries Mertens’ comments should serve as a warning to the upcoming rivals of Barcelona is Europa League and La Liga who would underestimate post-Messi Barcelona as having no cutting edge, at their own peril.
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