Champions League: Barcelona vs Napoli – Tactical Takeaways

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On Saturday night, Barcelona played Napoli in the second leg of the Round of 16 in the UEFA Champions League. The first tie ended in a 1-1 draw, with an away goal in favour of Barcelona. However, Barcelona put the game to bed after comfortably beating Napoli 3-1 at the Camp Nou. A header from Lenglet, a wonder-goal from Lionel Messi and a penalty from Luis Suarez.

In this tactical analysis, I will look at how the two sides played to win the game, and how Barcelona came out on top in the crucial Champions League match.


Barcelona set up in their 4-3-1-2, which has shown promise in their previous games.

Champions League: Barcelona's Lineup
Barcelona’s Lineup

Quique Setien started off with Marc Andre Ter Stegen in goal, with Clement Lenglet and Gerard Pique in front of him in central defence. The full-backs were Jordi Alba on the left and Nelson Semedo on the right. The midfield three in front of them almost chose itself, with the suspensions of Sergio Busquets and Arturo Vidal. Sergi Roberto, Frenkie De Jong and Ivan Rakitic started off as central midfielders. Antoine Griezmann played in the hole but interchanged regularly with the captain, Lionel Messi. Luis Suarez, the Uruguayan goalscorer, was the main, advanced striker.

Screenshot 2020 08 09 at 7.45.04 PM
Napoli’s Lineup

Napoli went with their trusted 4-3-3, with David Ospina in goal, Mario Rui started off at left-back, with Manolas and Koulibaly at centre-back, the latter linked to Manchester City. Giovanni Di Lorenzo started at right-back to complete the defence. Fabian Ruiz, who was linked to Barcelona for some time, started alongside Piotr Zielinski and Diego Demme to finish the midfield. Lorenzo Insigne returned from injury to start at left-wing, and Jose Callejon started at right-wing. The striker on the day was Dries Mertens.

1. Clement Lenglet, you beauty!

Clement Lenglet was arguably the best player on the pitch yesterday, as we can clearly see below, with his superhuman statistics:

Key to this is his pass accuracy of 94.5%, which was the best for Barcelona. Lenglet’s diagonal passing to the midfielder on the other side, in this case, Sergi Roberto, were important to progressing the play, as Roberto excels at making timed runs. He also got on to a goal, with a powerful header in the 10th minute as the opening goal. Defensively, he was solid too, blocking four shots and making three clearances. His defensive stability alongside Gerard Pique has merited him a start for the side, as he aided in blocking off overloads from the right-wing from Callejon and Fabian Ruiz by smartly reading the play.

2. De Jong controlled the midfield

In the absence of Sergio Busquets and Arturo Vidal, it was up to Frenkie De Jong to play as the holding midfielder, and he did so wonderfully.

De Jong played out a fabulous game in midfield, completing all of his takeons and had a pass accuracy of 92%. He created two major chances throughout the game, one of which should have been a goal. His long passes were a sight to behold, attempting two long balls, which made their mark. However, he thrived in the role that gave him more defensive freedom, as he did with Ajax Amsterdam. Out of the eight ground duels he attempted, he won six of them, with the highest duels success rate in both sides. He also attempted three dribbles with a 100% success rate, meaning that he completed every single dribble he attempted. However, his best points were not identifiable by statistics, but on his time on the ball.

De Jong acted as an outlet for transition plays as he dropped deeper near the defensive lines and stayed in front of the centre-backs. So, Lenglet could distribute the ball to De Jong, who progressed the ball and passed it to the attacking trio up front.

3. Lacked the Killer Edge

The usual criticism of Setien’s side is that they hold on to a lot of possession in the game, but do not score goals. This game was no exception. Barcelona held on to 51% of the ball against a possession-oriented Napoli side and threaded 606 passes to their 584. However, when looking at the breakdown of these passes, we can see an obvious difference. According to Sofascore’s data, Barcelona attempted six crosses, with one of them being successful. Meanwhile, Napoli attempted 19 crosses with a higher success rate of 26% to Barcelona’s 17%. Both teams had similar accuracy of passes at 91%, but Barcelona had lesser forward and attacking types of passes than Napoli, as we can see below:

Pass Type Barcelona Napoli
Cross 6 19
Through Passes 0 3
Short Passes 567 514
Long Balls 33 47

Napoli was simply more direct than Barcelona on the day, while Barca played a lot of sideways and backward passes in comparison.

The main takeaways here were that Barcelona was decent altogether, but came up victorious due to individual player brilliance. There should be a combination of both incredible tactics, timely substitutions and player brilliance to win the quarter-finals against Bayern Munich and hopefully win the Champions League.

Visca El Barca!

Loved this article? Check out our editorial review on Barcelona’s Champions League match against Napoli here 

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