Opinion

Napoli 2-4 Barcelona (3-5 Agg): Player ratings as Blaugrana blow Neapolitans away

Max Parsons
A night to remember for Barcelona
A night to remember for Barcelona / Francesco Pecoraro/GettyImages
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An awe-inspiring showing from Barcelona secured progression into the Europa League's final 16 on Thursday night, as they beat Napoli 4-2 to secure a 5-3 aggregate victory.

La Blaugrana put on a feisty, hearty and collectively damning display to breeze past their Italian opposition on the night, particularly impressing in the opening half to give significant hope for the club's future under Xavi.

It was a performance worthy of the shirt, one that allowed fans to reminisce about past glory days and be hopeful about future ones, and one that took no mercy from the first whistle.

Barcelona raced out of the blocks and blew their opposition away to assume complete control in the match's very early stages. Indeed, Xavi's side broke the deadlock before the clock had even struck eight minutes, courtesy of a breathtakingly devastating breakaway move.

The opportunity originated from a poorly taken Napoli corner, from which Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang led a counter before releasing Adama Traore, who in turn did wonderfully to carry the ball and put through a lung-bursting Jordi Alba who clinically slotted home.

The visitors' lead was doubled just five minutes later, as Frenkie de Jong stunned the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona. The Dutchman latched onto Ferran Torres' admittedly loose and hopeful back-heel before surging towards goal, shifting onto his right peg and sumptuously curling the ball into a cartoonishly rooted Alex Meret's far corner from range.

A reality check would be soon forthcoming, however. Marc-Andre ter Stegen's recklessness took centre stage as he rushed out of his goal and hacked down Victor Osimhen just inside the box.

After some serious protestation against the referee's original decision to wave away any claims, a VAR check would eventually award the hosts a penalty, which Lorenzo Insigne made no mistake in dispatching and bringing Napoli back into proceedings on 23 minutes.

Xavi's side reacted well to the setback and, despite passing up a good few opportunities (mainly due to the wastefulness of both Torres and Aubameyang), restored a two-goal cushion in the 45th minute to cap off a thrilling first period. The goal came from an unlikely source, with Gerard Pique sweeping home after Napoli failed to clear a corner.

A much-needed interval didn't seem to do the hosts all that much good, as La Blaugrana continued their merciless pursuit of goals after the break. And much to the joy of the travelling contingent, it was 4-1 before the hour mark.

Traore was at hand to cause panic once more before assisting yet another goal since his return to Barcelona. His rolled ball across the penalty area was dummied by an alert de Jong, before Aubameyang nonchalantly swept the ball into Meret's top corner.

Insigne had briefly looked to have given the hosts a sliver of hope ten minutes later, although even the linesman didn't hesitate in raising his flag immediately as the little Italian was clearly miles offside before slotting the ball into ter Stegen's net.

As it turned out, the home faithful would have something to cheer, courtesy of Matteo Politano's 87th-minute consolation. The half-time substitute was able to capitalise on a slight over-elaboration at the back, harrying Barcelona's back line, latching onto the ball, before firing into ter-Stegen's near post.

A consolation, however, was all it was. Xavi's side were able to maintain their ascendancy in the game's latter stages and were comfortable in seeing a ruthless and memorable European victory.

While the Europa League is nowhere near the desired heights for the club, Barcelona's demolition of Napoli is as evident a sign of progression back to that status as we've seen under Xavi so far.

The victory, however, will need to represent a stepping stone to consistent performances of this calibre to translate into fruitful campaigns at the highest level. For now, though, they are still 15 points behind La Liga-leading Real Madrid - a competition they'll get back to when they face Athletic Club on Sunday night.


Barcelona player ratings

1. Goalkeeper & Defenders

Jordi Alba
Jordi Alba celebrates his brilliant goal / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

Marc-Andre ter Stegen (GK) - 2/10 - What on earth was he thinking? Awful error to gift the hosts a route back into the game but was let off by his colleagues' brilliance. Couldn't do much about the late strike.

Sergino Dest (RB) - 6/10 - Combined well with Traore up the right flank and was reliable in defence.

Ronald Araujo (CB) - 5/10 - A little lax in possession and occasionally clumsy when faced with the imposing Osimhen.

Gerard Pique (CB) - 8/10 - Mostly at fault for Napoli's late goal but generally put in a classic leader's performance - strong and assured defensively while also showing great composure to finish and effectively put his side out of sight.

Jordi Alba (LB) - 9/10 - Very solid on the back foot, reading play excellently to recover possession seven times. Also did well when venturing upfield - notably scoring a wonderful goal to open the scoring.

2. Midfielders

Frankie de Jong
Frenkie de Jong was excellent / Francesco Pecoraro/GettyImages

Sergio Busquets (DM) - 7/10 - Masterful passing at the heart of the side, managing two key passes and continuously directing play.

Frenkie de Jong (CM) - 9/10 - Brilliant vigour in his overall game, pressing incessantly while also playing progressively and creatively. Ran the show at times, and deservedly bagged himself an absolute stunner in the first half.

Pedri (CM) - 8/10 - Just so good on the ball - seems to glide when building and dictating play with cute touches and movement. Also played an important role in stifling Napoli's progression with his insatiable energy.

3. Forwards

Adama Traore (RW) - 9/10 - Donning a new shirt seems to have done him the world of good. An absolute demon throughout, terrorising the Neapolitan defence as and when he chose. Got a blistering assist for Barca's first, before a calculated one for their fourth.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (ST) - 8/10 - Excellent collective play throughout, notably doing brilliantly to carry the opportunity for the first goal, and was forgiven for his first-half wastefulness with a fantastic goal after the interval.

Ferran Torres (LW) - 7/10 - His sharp feet and trustful drive caused havoc at times, but he was once more wasteful in front of goal. Did work tirelessly, however, and will deservedly claim an assist for de Jong's strike.

4. Substitutes

Gavi (CM) - 6/10

Nico Gonzalez (CM) - 5/10

Luuk de Jong (ST) - 6/10

Ousmane Dembele (RW) - 6/10

Riqui Puig (CM) - N/A

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