Three takeaways from Napoli 1-1 Barcelona: Calzona impresses on debut, Blaugrana lack the aura of their predecessors

Napoli held Barcelona to a draw in the Champions League with the Partenopei putting in a good performance on the debut of Francesco Calzona. However, this Barca lack the aura of the great Blaugrana teams of the past.

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Napoli held Barcelona to a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their Round of 16 Champions League tie, and they nearly could have won the match against an unremarkable Blaugrana side.

A Victor Osimhen strike cancelled out a Robert Lewandowski one from earlier in the second half, and it was a goal that really swung the momentum for the Italian team on the debut of Francesco Calzona as Partenopei coach. His substitutions also helped the Neapolitans take control of the match in the latter stages whereas the Catalonians ran out of ideas.

Both teams will play each other in the second leg on March 12, and despite their own struggles in 2023/24, Napoli should not be afraid of the current Barcelona squad, which cannot be compared to the great teams of the 2000s and 2010s.

Calzona a pleasant surprise

Appointed as coach of Napoli for the remainder of the campaign whilst also coaching the Slovakia Men’s National Team, Calzona can be satisfied with the way the Partenopei performed on his debut.

He implemented the 4-3-3 formation, which was used under scudetto-winning tactician Luciano Spalletti, and started most of the players that were mainstays last season. However, the Azzurri were missing their typical attacking spark, so when Lewandowski scored for Barcelona, the new coach made substitutions.

With Hamed Traore and Jesper Lindstrom coming on, Napoli had greater attacking impetus, which filtered through to the rest of the squad. The Partenopei rediscovered their fluidity and had more variation in their attacking play.

Calzona is only one game into his tenure in Naples, but with more time, the Partenopei can become a potent attacking threat again.

Napoli players celebrate after Victor Osimhen scored a goal. (@sscnapoli_br)

Politano and Kvaratskhelia fail to threaten from the wings

One of the important facets of Napoli’s play in 2022/23 was how they attacked from the wide positions. Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Mario Rui advanced from the full-back positions while wingers Matteo Politano and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia were a part of the attacking trident.

Unfortunately, for a good hour or so, the Partenopei were not dangerous on the flanks, and any crosses coming into the box were easily cleared by the Barcelona defence. Politano usually has the energy to run up and down the wing, or cut in from wide positions, but he was ineffective against the Blaugrana. Meanwhile, Kvaratskhelia was no better, failing to display his bursts of pace and trickery.

Although they were heroes last season as Napoli went on the win the Serie A title, they do not provide the same assurance in this campaign. With the substitutes performing better, Calzona might as well give them more chances, and the stalwarts might need time on the bench to freshen up and regain motivation.

Napoli striker Victor Osimhen leaps for joy after scoring. (@sscnapoli_br)

This Barcelona team are not fearsome

Truth be told, Barcelona have not impressed in the Champions League for the last five seasons, last reaching the semi-finals in the 2018/19 edition when they lost to eventual winners Liverpool. In this match against Napoli, the current Blaugrana side lacked an aura that their predecessors once had.

The Spanish giants had dominated possession for the first hour or so, and had 12 shots with six of them on target. However, the Italian club had the higher xG with 0.92 compared to 0.72. Putting the statistics aside, Barca lacked conviction and were rather predictable, missing the incisiveness and fluidity of the great teams of yesteryear.

Despite having experienced players like Ilkay Gundogan and Lewandowski as well as a rising star like Pedri, the current Barcelona team does not put fear into opponents like previous Barca teams did, and Napoli should not be intimidated by them when they play again in Catalonia in three weeks’ time.

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