Barcelona beat Napoli 3-1 at Camp Nou to advance to the quarter-finals of the UCL after a Leo Messi masterclass in the first half. Barcelona goes into the next round with an aggregate of 4-2 over the two legs. But the match provided a feisty tactical battle between Setien and Gattuso. Here is our exclusive Barcelona vs Napoli Tactical Review, where we will dissect how Barca overpowered a challenging Napoli side which has been tricky under Gattuso.
Barcelona vs Napoli Tactical Review: How the teams lined up
Barca played with the basic 4-3-3 formation, interestingly they started Sergi Roberto at the midfield. The midfield 3 consisted of Roberto, Rakitic, and De Jong. Semedo and Alba were the full-backs. The front 3 consisted of the famous M-S-G trio. With Messi on the right, Griezmann on the left and Suarez as the center forward.
Napoli also started with a 4-3-3 formation, they had two tricky wingers with Callejon and Insigne. Mertens was the center forward. Midfield 3 consisted of Zielinski, Fabian Ruiz, and Demme, Ruiz being the deep-lying of the three recovering the ball from the back. Side backs were Di Lorenzo and Mario Rui. The backline of Koulibaly and Manolas also looked solid on paper.
Barcelona’s Tactics Discussion
Barcelona moves more into a 4-4-2 Diamond or a 4-3-2-1 shape according to the needs in the defensive areas. They were playing with the two centre backs in the two extremes of the penalty box as Ter Stegen acting as the third centre back. This allowed the two fullbacks Semedo and Alba to push up a bit high up on the pitch. As a result, the easy passing lane is created for the centre backs, as a result, the Napoli wingers tried to follow the fullbacks, as a result, free spaces were created in the midfield.
In the latter part of the matches, Barca tried to cut out any danger from the Napoli wingers by creating a 2 vs. 2 situation in the wings which resulted in very little space or no space for the Napoli wingers or full-backs to whip any cross in the box. As a result, a lot of long balls were played by Napoli to get passed over the Barca backline but that turned out to be a damp squib as Nelson Semedo was at his best and was found hardly out of position as he easily cleared out any danger.
Barca though played with a high backline, they didn’t press much high or the aggression was not all-mighty, as they allowed the Napoli players to come into them. As Barca created a solid midblock and stared pressing as soon as the Napoli players move into the central areas, there was no option left for the Napoli players but to play out from the wings. But that too didn’t work out for Napoli to be fair as Barca created overloads in the wings.
Barcelona in possession looked dangerous from the word to go. As the wingers were drawn out by the Full backs of Barca to cut out the free passing lanes, Napoli midfielders needed to drop into the forward areas to support the striker, as Barca were playing with a central block, this proved to be tough. On the contrary, as the midfielders move forward the central areas of pitch remained vacated throughout the match, thus it became easy for the Barcelona midfielders to dictate the play in the free spaces.
To stop this Koulibaly was moving aggressively out of his position to squeeze the free space, but that turned out to be futile as free spaces were left behind by him, and Barca by playing a simple one-touch passing sequence found the player in the right who could easily exploit the pace by cutting into space and then take advantage of that, the second goal from Messi was a prime example of that.
Griezmann was also moving into the central areas of the pitch when Alba was on the ball to provide the full-back with the wing space. De Jong and Rakitic were the ball carriers. They were the pillars of Barca’s counter-attacks as they carried the ball forward with pace and the tried to lay it off to the fullbacks or wingers present in the wings, who in turn will either find the player in the box or will make a cut in movement and then launch a shot.
Napoli’s Tactical Discussion
Napoli was playing with a high block from the beginning as they were the ones chasing the game, but that didn’t help them much as with time Barca forced them to play with a low block as waves of Barca attacks were launch on the Napoli defense. Mario Rui was defensively quite not up to the mark as his misjudgments often led to the havoc caused by Messi. The fullbacks were not moving up at the same time as a result a 3 man backline was always there. Demme dropped deep to be the pressure release point for Napoli. Napoli became narrow centrally really leaving a lot of space on both sides to be exploited by Barca wingers and fullbacks.
Napoli followed an aggressive approach in pressing as they pressed with high intensity. Barca’s mid-block left no space for the Napoli players to be playing the ball out centrally so they have to rely a lot on the wide areas. Napoli played out from the back with Koulibaly with his distribution skill tried to play long balls targeting Insigne on the left, as Zielinski and Ruiz were constantly pulling Semedo out during the opening stages of the game, leaving Insigne in free space and target of the long balls but with the game advancing it became useless as Barca discovered the ploy.
In the second half with Milik’s entry, Napoli tried to play out long balls from the back and the wide areas by marking him as the target man. Mario Rui was particularly successful in this endeavor. With the time passing in the second half, Napoli became more desperate as they tried to overpower the wing areas by creating a 3 vs. 2 situation with the midfielders moving into the left and right half-spaces along with the fullbacks and wingers. But with Barca dropping deep in the second half this ploy did not bear the fruits for them.
Barcelona vs Napoli Tactical Review: The Conclusion
Barca will now go to Lisbon and will meet Bayern in the Quarter Finals, who thumped Chelsea 4-1 in the Allianz Arena to go through with a 7-1 aggregate score. It is safe to say that Barcelona looked good after a long time, especially for doing this without Busquets and Vidal. It can be a red-letter day in Setien’s tenure as the Barcelona manager. Now we will have to see if Barca and Messi can carry this form throughout the remaining campaign.
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