In what was a hugely exciting night at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on Thursday, Barcelona managed to extend on their Europa League adventure with a thrilling 4-2 win against Napoli.
Making the trip out to Italy facing what many around the Nou Camp had billed as a must-win showdown for Xavi’s side, the former European champions eventually secured an eye-catching 5-2 aggregate win.
Putting their name into Friday’s draw for the Last 16, we have taken a look at the main talking points as Barcelona ran rampant in Naples on Thursday night.
Barca extend on their recent boost
Managing to come from behind in Catalonia last week as they snatched a 1-1 draw in their first-leg showdown, there is no doubt that Head Coach Xavi would have been impressed by a far more polished display here.
Dominating from the opening whistle on Thursday night and the likes of January arrival Adama Traore causing a string of problems for Napoli’s defence, the Spanish heavyweights quickly opened the scoring on foreign soil.
Watching left-back Jordi Alba finish a slick move after just eight minutes, Barcelona were quickly running rampant at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.
With Dutch international Frenkie de Jong doubling Xavi’s lead with a wonderful curling effort just minutes after Alba’s opener, Thursday’s guests were more than deserving of their 3-1 lead when heading into the interval.
Handed their half-time buffer as Gerard Pique produced a sublime volley past the helpless Alex Meret, Barca eventually cruised their way to the Last 16 of this year’s Europa League.
Filled with praise for his side’s impressive display here, Xavi’s night was topped off as former Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang rounded off a successful week for his new side.
Bagging a hat-trick against Valencia last weekend, the Gabon ace wrapped up Barca’s victory in Naples as he once again got himself on the scoresheet on the hour mark.
A defensive struggle for Napoli
More than deserving of their 1-1 draw at the Nou Camp seven days ago and asking Barcelona a host of questions, many around the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona were smelling a real chance here.
However, while they might have welcomed back attacking talisman Victor Osimhen on Thursday night, there is no doubt that Head Coach Luciano Spalletti will be extremely angered by his side’s problems at the back.
Constantly giving the ball away when deciding to play out from the back, the central defensive partnership of Amir Rrahmani and Kalidou Koulibaly endured what quickly became a nightmare night in Naples.
With a vocal home support making their frustration heard throughout, Napoli can have few complaints about what was a deserved defeat here.
While Thursday’s hosts might have bagged consolation goals from Lorenzo Insigne and second-half sub Matteo Politano, that will offer little solace on what was a night to forget for the Italian giants.
Failing to pick up any momentum last weekend as they had to settle for a late 1-1 draw away at Serie A relegation scrappers Cagliari, there could be some pressure growing on Spalletti’s shoulders.
Outclassed by a Barcelona side growing through a real transition, Napoli’s wait for a first European title since 1989 will only be extended following their 5-3 aggregate defeat.
Barcelona – The Europa League favourites?
Crashing out of the Champions League last year and enduring what was a very public struggle, it appears that Barcelona have really found a much-needed boost over recent times.
Storming their way to a 4-1 win away at Valencia last weekend and with their sights set on clinching a top-four finish in La Liga this season, Thursday’s guests should find the mood in their camp at a real high.
Laying down a real marker at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on Thursday night, many around the Nou Camp will now be seeing this year’s Europa League as a golden chance to claim a piece of silverware.
Knocking out another European giant on foreign soil here and also watching Rangers shockingly come past Borussia Dortmund, there is no doubt that Xavi’s side will be tipped as a leading contender.
With the likes of Aubameyang and Traore make an immediate impact since arriving in Catalonia last month, Barca will be eagerly awaiting Friday’s quarter-final draw.
Napoli: Meret, Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Koulibaly, Mário Rui, Demme, Ruiz, Elmas, Zielinski, Insigne, Osimhen
Subs: Ounas, Mertens, Politano, Petagna, Ghoulam
Barcelona: Ter Stegen, Dest, Araújo, Pique, Alba, F. De Jong, Busquets, González López, Traore, Aubameyang, Torres
Subs: González Iglesias, Paez Gaviria, Dembélé, L. De Jong, Puig Martí
Goals: Napoli: Insigne 23′ pen, Politano 87′ – Barcelona: Alba 8′, F. De Jong 13′, Piqué 45′, Aubameyang 59′
Yellow Cards: Napoli: Ruiz, Zielinski – Barcelona: Paez Gaviria
Red Cards: N/A
Referee: Sergey Karasev
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