Barcelona erupts in second half, blanks Napoli before 60,000 at Michigan Stadium
Ann Arbor — When Barcelona is minus a star, the Spanish LaLiga Club finds three suitable replacements.
Lionel Messi was back in Barcelona with a calf injury.
Luis Suarez, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele answered the call in a 4-0 drubbing of SSC Napoli in the LaLiga-Serie A Cup before 60,043 spectators Saturday at Michigan Stadium.
Suarez scored twice (48’ and 56’) while Griezmann (58’) and Dembele (63’) added goals in a second-half pyrotechnic show by the Catalonian outfit, which dazzled the sunbaked crowd at The Big House.
For the first the time since Ann Arbor began hosting international soccer showcases seven years ago, Saturday’s crowd fell well below the 100,000 mark. The shortfall was evident at kickoff when large swaths of empty rows surrounded the stadium, prompting a message board announcement asking fans to move down to fill in the gaps.
Barcelona's manager Ernesto Valverde is not worried about a gap in talent. He was queried about an embarrassment of riches -- namely how will he find roles up front for Messi, Suarez and newcomer Griezmann once the LaLiga season kicks off in a week.
"The problem is when you don't have these three excellent players then you have to deal with 11 players and you have to figure out how to have the best team," said Valverde, whose team defeated Napoli 2-1 on Wednesday in Miami. "It's much more of a problem not to have these players than to have them."
Barcelona revealed its class during a 15-minute span when the Catalonian club erupted four goals against a side that plays in Serie A, which prides itself on rugged defense.
Suarez started the offensive fireworks, pouncing on a rebound from a Griezmann shot that Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret saved in the 48th minute. The French international, who arrived last month from Atletico Madrid in a €130-million transfer ($135 million), scored his first goal for Barcelona in eight minutes later.
Jordi Alba assisted in the intricate give-and-go in front of the net, which epitomized Barcelona’s classic one-touch passing style.
Blood was in the water, and Suarez sensed it when he took Dembele’s pass near the 18-yard box. The Uruguayan acutely bent a right-foot shot that hit the upper-left corner of the net. The goal in the 58th minute gave Barcelona a 3-0 lead.
Demebele displayed his ability as a marksman six minutes later, driving a low hard shot to the right of the Napoli keeper for Barca’s fourth goal. Frenkie de Jong, who signed last month from Dutch giants Ajax for €75 million last month, assisted on the goal.
"In the first half we were very dominant overall. It was a good game; It was a very hard game overall," Valverde said. "In the second half, we were also dominant but the game opened up a little more and we were able to pressure a little more and score."
Barcelona had the choicest chances in the first half. Dembele took a pass, cut inside before unleashing a daisy cutter that required Meret to dive to his left to save in the 41st minute.
Three minutes later, Suarez launched a shot from about eight yards out that required Meret to use two hands to push over the bar for a corner.
Napoli’s Fabian Ruiz missed a chance at the right edge of the goal mouth in first-half stoppage time.
"We played a very intense game, we played a very serious game," Barcelona's Valverde said. "We showed that we were picking up very dangerous (counters) in terms of our defense.
"We had very good goals and very good balance between attacking and defending."