For the first time in a long time, Barcelona played a game of European football on a Thursday night.
Their return to the Europa League – in fact their first foray into the competition since it was rebranded from the UEFA Cup – ended in a 1-1 draw with Italian side Napoli.
Xavi’s side dominated the game and missed a series of chances to win the first leg of their knockout round play-off (though that was largely the fault of Ferran Torres).
The head coach opted to start the match with his trio of new attackers up front, with Torres and Adama Traore flanking Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
While the Spanish wingers have enjoyed relatively fast starts to their Barça careers, the former Arsenal captain has had to make do with cameo appearances since his post-deadline day move to Catalonia.
The need for a new striker at Camp Nou was evident in a depressing first half of the season for Barcelona, who leaned a little too heavily on Memphis Depay to replace the output of Lionel Messi.
Aubameyang’s performance on Thursday was not a match-winning one, but he displayed most of the attributes that you’d expect of a Blaugrana frontman. He pressed relentlessly, dropped deep to drive from midfield and excelled at bringing others into the game.
But that last part stopped a good debut from being a great one. Aubameyang was perhaps too selfless on his first start, registering just two shots – both from range – despite taking up decent positions.
Thursday night was dominated by Torres’ complete inability to strike a ball properly when it wasn’t placed for him on the penalty spot. Aubameyang was sometimes merely the supporting act when he should have been in the leading role.
In recent weeks, Xavi has waxed lyrical about Aubameyang’s positive influence in the dressing room already, proving to be a role model for a young Barcelona squad.
The former midfielder will no doubt be encouraged by the Gabonese’s on-field generosity too, but sooner or later he’s going to need his star striker to show the devastating form that terrorised Europe in the 2010s.
Goals are ultimately the reason that Aubameyang was brought to Barcelona and the Blaugrana are going to need them as a differential on nights like this if they’re to reach the Champions League again.
This isn’t a criticism of Aubameyang – he was one of Barça’s finest performers on Thursday – but after a subpar couple of years at the back end of his Arsenal career, it would be reassuring to know that he still does have plenty of goals left in him.
His next chance comes in a crunch La Liga clash with Valencia at the weekend before facing Napoli again next Thursday – Barcelona’s season hopes could be in tatters if they fail to win either of those games and if they’re to secure two victories, you’d expect Aubameyang to have a huge say.
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