Barcelona’s Triumph: Shifting from Pressure to Ambition

Barcelona players celebrating there win over Napoli / Getty Images
Barcelona players celebrating their win over Napoli / Getty Images

Barcelona’s strategic shift from pressure to ambition propelled them to a dominant victory over Napoli.

“We’ve shifted from pressure to ambition, giving it our all from the start of the match,” declared Pau Cubarsí, last night’s 17-year-old MVP, perfectly summarizing the mentality with which Barcelona approached the clash against Napoli, in which, following their 3-1 victory, they secured a spot in the Champions League quarterfinals after three years of absence. According to the statement from the brilliant youth player, Xavi urged his players to change the suffocating need to advance to the next stage, even amidst the economic blow of potential elimination, for the voracity required to seal a tie in which they had the advantage of playing at home, even if it was in the Montjuïc exile.

According to Fernando Polo of Mundo Deportivo, it was a more modern and down-to-earth version of the “go out and enjoy” attributed to Johan Cruyff before the Wembley final but, as several members of the Dream Team have claimed, the ‘Flying Dutchman’ never uttered those exact words. The fans didn’t disappoint and helped the team summon that ambition from minute one. The Lluís Companys Olympic Stadium gathered 50,301 spectators, including about 3,000 Napoli supporters, in the best attendance of the season. Yesterday’s triumph was built on a ferocious start from Xavi’s men, serving as the best antidote to calm the nerves of having to win to salvage, among other things, the club’s budget. Such ambition has been sorely missed this season, with countless first halves where Barça played at a sluggish pace, failing to press the opponent’s buildup, barely troubling their goalkeeper, and conceding goals early on that would weigh them down throughout the match.

Yesterday was the opposite, and although Napoli already posed a dangerous ball in the box from the kickoff, Barcelona was already leading 2-0 within 17 minutes. A veritable feast of finishing and efficiency as Fermín’s 1-0 and Cancelo’s 2-0 came within two minutes of the Blaugrana’s relentless attacks, converting every chance they created. With a two-goal lead, Barcelona went for the third, but at the half-hour mark, they faced the harsh reality of the Champions League: on their first well-crafted move, Napoli scored. Just a minute later, Araujo suffered a cut above his eyebrow with blood streaming down his face. Luckily, Dr. Pruna applied instant coagulant, and it didn’t escalate, but unease started creeping into the Barça camp. The team went into halftime with a 2-1 lead thanks to a brilliant save from Ter Stegen.

Napoli came out strong in the second half, and an imprecise Barcelona had to endure 35 minutes of suffering. Lindstrom had the chance to equalize in the 80th minute, but his header, unmarked, narrowly missed the target. Sergi Roberto’s introduction brought more composure to the team, and the captain was instrumental in the final 3-1 victory. Xavi endured on the sidelines, as usual, getting frustrated with some refereeing decisions and some careless passes from his players, especially from Raphinha and Ter Stegen, who were strangely inaccurate with the ball at their feet yesterday. Upon reaching the quarterfinals, President Laporta and economic vice-president Romeu breathed a sigh of relief.

Barcelona receives the €10.6 million awarded by UEFA for reaching this round and secures around €5 million from the revenue at Montjuïc. Therefore, the club avoids a setback that would have amounted to a negative €15 million in the profit and loss account, always considering access to the quarterfinals. Next Friday, at 12:00 PM, the draw in Nyon will set the path towards Wembley as the quarterfinals and semifinals will be drawn. Today, the last two quarterfinalists will enter, determined by the Atlético Madrid-Inter Milan and Borussia Dortmund-PSV Eindhoven matches. Barcelona must approach it like last night’s game: with more ambition than pressure.