NAPLES, Italy — Antoine Griezmann‘s second-half strike cancelled out Dries Mertens‘ opener at the Stadio San Paolo on Tuesday as Barcelona and Napoli played out an entertaining 1-1 draw in the Champions League.
The result leaves the round-of-16 tie delicately poised heading into the second leg at Camp Nou in March, when Barca will be without Arturo Vidal, who was sent off late. Sergio Busquets will also miss the return game after picking up his third booking of the competition.
Mertens gave the hosts the lead with a stunning strike from outside the box on the half-hour mark. Griezmann then levelled early in the second half after good work from Busquets and Nelson Semedo.
Napoli had the best chances to win it as the game opened up. However, both Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon saw their shots saved by the imperious Marc-Andre ter Stegen before Vidal was shown his marching orders late on after picking up two bookings.
Given their away form in Europe, Barca will view this as a good result. Going into the match, they’d won just one of their last eight away games in the knockout stages of the Champions League. That’s now one win in nine, but a draw puts them in a good position going back to Camp Nou.
Griezmann will draw confidence from getting the goal — his second in Europe for the club — which levelled the tie. The Frenchman has endured a tough opening season at Barcelona at times so will have been delighted to contribute in a big game.
Vidal’s red card and Busquets’ booking leaves Barca extremely short heading into the second leg. They’re already without Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele for that game, while full-backs Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto are in a race against time to be fit for Napoli’s visit. To top it all off, Gerard Pique limped off with an ankle problem in stoppage time.
The suspensions and the injuries continue to expose the poor squad planning. Quique Setien already had a small squad when he took over and the setbacks suffered has seen his pool of players dramatically reduced. The club have already had to sign Martin Braithwaite in exceptional circumstances to boost the numbers and they had four B team players on the bench in Italy.
Manager rating out of 10
7 — This night had been a long time in the making for Setien, who was taking charge of his first-ever game in the Champions League at the grand old age of 61. This was not a vintage performance from his side but he’s showing himself to be a pragmatist, working with what he’s got as opposed to demanding too many changes, too soon.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 8 — Made two really good saves at 1-1, the first from Insigne and the second, which was was the pick of the pair, from Callejon. Equally impressive, once again, was his distribution.
DF Nelson Semedo, 6 — Continues to produce the goods in attack, setting up another goal, although he struggled with the threat of Mertens and Insigne at times.
DF Gerard Pique, 6 — A solid enough performance from the defender, who stepped forward and helped build a numerical advantage when Barca had the ball. Hobbled off at the end, though, setting alarm bells ringing.
DF Samuel Umtiti, 6 — Edged out Clement Lenglet to start alongside Pique in the defence. Much more suited to Setien’s stylistic demands on the ball than Lenglet but, and more importantly, he’s now showing signed of improvements defensively, too.
MF Sergio Busquets, 7 — The midfielder continues to do well under Setien and produced the pass of the match in the lead up to the Barca goal. Will be a big miss in the second leg.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 5 — Taken off 10 minutes into the second half after failing to really add anything to his side’s performance.
MF Frenkie de Jong, 6 — Wasted a couple of good counter-attacks in the second half with poor decisions. His recent form has been up and down as he continues to adapt to a more attacking role on the left-hand side of Barca’s midfield.
FW Lionel Messi, 6 — Wanted to impress given all the pre-match talk of this being his first appearance at the San Paolo, where his compatriot Diego Maradona spent his best years, but was well marshalled by a number of Napoli bodies every time he got the chance to break into the box.
FW Antoine Griezmann, 7 — The Frenchman’s hard work and clever running paid off when he turned home the equaliser in the second half. It was his 14th goal of the season in all competitions and it could be important if Barca progress.
FW Arturo Vidal, 5 — Had done a decent job as a makeshift right forward, linking well with Messi, before losing his head late on.
MF Arthur Melo, 6 — Given half an hour but didn’t have a huge impact, firing over late on as Barca struggled to create any good chances.
FW Ansu Fati, NR — Replaced Griezmann late on.
DF Clement Lenglet, NR — Came on for the injured Pique in stoppage time.