The Blaugrana might have dominated possession but they managed only one shot on goal at the San Paolo and were finally blessed to claim a 1-1 draw.
Antoine Griezmann didn’t see much the ball against Napoli on Tuesday night. Really, the Barcelona forward touched it only six times in the first half.
But he applied the finishing touch to the 1 moment of quality the people made at the San Paolo to earn his side a 1-1 draw which makes them favourites to advance to the quarter-finals of their Champions League.
Still, a fantastic goal couldn’t gloss over a terrible performance.
In fact, after falling behind to Dries Mertens’ fine first-half complete, the Catalans never seemed levelling against the sixth-best side in Serie A before Sergio Busquets opened Napoli’s defence for the first time, playing in Nelson Semedo, who crossed for Griezmann to score out of what was Barca’s only shot on goal all night.
It was an utterly uninspired performance in the Spanish titleholders, whose dream of lifting the Champions League for the first time because 2015 still seems a long shot.
“We won’t win it as we are,” said Lionel Messi last week. The Barcelona captain was proven right in Naples. His team is way below the level necessary to lift the European Cup.
Ahead of Messi’s first look at the home of fellow Argentine legend Diego Maradona, he had been offered pizza and mozzarella cheese through the window of Barcelona’s team bus by inviting Napoli fans.
However, the home side’s players weren’t in anything like as ample a mood.
Napoli nullified the No.10 by enjoying a low-block defence and bringing the midfield and forward deep within their own half also when not in possession. The hosts spent an hour of the match with 11 men within their own land.
And why not? Barca were bereft of incision and Napoli needed a wish to safeguard thanks to Mertens, who struck on the half-hour mark.
Perhaps the midfield could have cut the ball forwards, possibly Junior Firpo should have been more powerful as he had been challenged by Piotr Zielinski, possibly Gerard Pique or Semedo might have shut down the danger on the border of the box, but it was a hell of a hit in the Belgian forward, who abandoned Marc-Andre ter Stegen frozen to the spot with a sublime right-footed finish from the edge of the region.
It was Mertens’ 121st goal, which makes him the joint-top scorer in Napoli’s background, alongside Marek Hamsik, and what a way to do it!
Napoli afterwards lost Mertens to injury, following the converted winger was on the receiving end of a reckless high boot from Busquets, whose resultant yellow card means he will miss the second leg in Camp Nou.
Arturo Vidal are also unavailable through suspension following nonsensically getting himself sent off. After fouling Mario Rui wide on the left touchline, the Chilean then butted heads with the protector, prompting referee Felix Brych to issue the midfielder with two yellow cards simultaneously.
Barca could have done without such stupidity, given they are already without injured trio Luis Suarez, Ousmane Dembele and Sergio Roberto, while Gerard Pique went down with a stressing ankle injury shortly before full-time at San Paolo.
In that circumstance, a score draw is a good result for Barca, especially when one considers that Ter Stegen came off his lineup on to deny Jose Callejon what should have been the winner.
As it stands, however, Setien’s side remain favourites to reach the final eight thanks to Griezmann’s goal.
But on the evidence of what we saw in Naples, Barcelona is unlikely to go any farther.