Barcelona and Napoli will head to Italy all square after a pulsating UEFA Europa League knockout round play-off first leg.
Barcelona were sprightly early on but lacked a cutting edge, with Ferran Torres spurning their best chance of the opening half. Napoli took full advantage moments later, Eljif Elmas’ smart turn and pass enabling Piotr Zieliński to drill in at the second attempt after Marc-André ter Stegen had kept out his initial effort.
Xavi Hernández’s calming words at half-time had the desired effect and the home side always looked the more likely to win after Ferran Torres rolled in a penalty following Juan Jesus’ handball. The closing stages were a siege as Luciano Spalletti’s side hung on, Ferran Torres missing the target with two more presentable openings and substitute Luuk De Jong so close with an overhead kick.
Nico González, Barcelona midfielder: “When we go to Naples, the fact is that we need to dominate like we did here. We need to be the better team again and we need to take our chances.”
Xavi Hernández, Barcelona coach: “One goal wasn’t enough for the football we produced. We needed to be more effective. Now we must go to Napoli and win, basically by playing the same type of match but scoring when we get the chance.”
Piotr Zieliński, Napoli midfielder: “It’s amazing to score at the Camp Nou, but we’ll need to do better in the second leg. It’s a good result, but we needed to do better in the second half. The return match will be different.”
Luciano Spalletti, Napoli coach: “We sat too deep in the second half and we must improve. In the first half, we showed that we can play on a par with Barcelona.”
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Mingueza (Dest 81), Piqué, Eric García, Alba; Nico González (Gavi 65), F. De Jong (Busquets 65), Pedri; Traoré (Dembélé 65), Aubameyang (L. De Jong 86), Ferran Torres
Napoli: Meret; Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Koulibaly, Juan Jesus; Zambo Anguissa (Malcuit 84), Fabián Ruiz; Elmas (Mário Rui 84), Zieliński (Demme 80), Insigne (Ounas 72); Osimhen (Mertens 80)
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