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Ten-man Barcelona came from behind to earn a 1-1 draw against Napoli in the first leg of their 2019-20 UEFA Champions League last-16 tie on Tuesday.
Dries Mertens put the hosts ahead with a brilliant strike in the first half at the Stadio San Paolo, but Antoine Griezmann’s goal early in the second half meant honours finished even.
Barca did, though, finish the game a man down when Arturo Vidal was sent off late on for two simultaneous yellow cards.
The Blaugrana’s away goal should give them an edge for the return leg at the Camp Nou on March 18, especially since Napoli have won just one of their last nine away games in the Champions League.
For the first 45 minutes, Napoli played Gennaro Gattuso’s game plan to perfection.
The hosts allowed Barca to have almost all of the ball, but they were so organised in defence that the Blaugrana could find no way through.
Only once in the entire first half did Napoli lose their shape, and Lionel Messi found some space through the centre in the 27th minute. But the Argentinian could not provide the right ball for Griezmann to have an opportunity on goal.
Three minutes later, Piotr Zielinski pick-pocketed Junior Firpo deep in Barca’s half and squared across the edge of the penalty area to Mertens. The Belgian produced a superb, curling finish into the top corner that Marc-Andre ter Stegen could only stand and watch.
Just before half-time, the German goalkeeper was almost left stranded again, but Kostas Manolas’ effort from eight yards whistled narrowly wide of the post.
Per Squawka, despite their 70 per cent possession, Barca failed to muster a single shot on target in the first 45 minutes.
After 12 minutes of the second half, though, they had the ball in the net.
Sergio Busquets, who will miss the second leg along with Vidal after picking up a yellow card, threaded a beautiful ball to Nelson Semedo beyond the Napoli defence, and Griezmann side-footed his squared pass high into the net past David Ospina.
The equaliser prompted a change in system from Napoli, who began to press much higher, and in the 10 minutes following Barca’s goal, Ter Stegen came up with two brilliant saves to deny Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon.
Napoli may live to regret those chances going begging, especially given Barca could come up with nothing better themselves in a much more open final 20 minutes.
The Blaugrana did, though, lose Vidal after he was issued two yellow cards in the 89th minute for first fouling Mario Rui and then squaring up to him with a weak and brainless headbutt.
Barcelona visit the Santiago Bernabeu to take on Real Madrid on Sunday in a top-of-the-table El Clasico clash in La Liga that could decide the destination of the title this season.
Napoli, meanwhile, host Torino in Serie A on Saturday.