The longer term is now: La Masia grads hearth Barca into UCL quarters

BARCELONA — The final time Barcelona reached a Champions League quarterfinal, Lionel Messi nonetheless performed for the membership and the world was in lockdown as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.

Throughout the 4 years since, there was only one look within the round-of-16, two group stage eliminations and lots of dwelling on the previous. Now, although, as Barça return to the final eight for the primary time since 2020 after beating Napoli on Tuesday, there are causes to look in direction of a brighter future — even when this season has not gone totally to plan after successful LaLiga final yr.

Fermín López, João Cancelo and Robert Lewandowski could have scored the targets as Barça beat Italian champions Napoli 3-1 on the Olympic Stadium, incomes a 4-2 mixture win, however it was as soon as youngsters Lamine Yamal and Pau Cubarsí who have been most spectacular.

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Yamal, 16, was Barça’s match-winner in opposition to Mallorca on the weekend and he was typically too good for knowledgeable Napoli left-back Mário Rui, who struggled to take care of his tempo and trickery. The Spain worldwide led the counter-attack which led to the second purpose within the seventeenth minute, weighting an ideal move to Raphinha, whose shot off the publish was turned house by Cancelo. By that time, López, the 20-year-old midfielder filling in for the injured Pedri and Frenkie de Jong, had already opened the scoring with a well-taken end as a part of a wide ranging Barça begin.

Maybe the one disappointment for Yamal, who already has 13 purpose contributions this season, was that he did not add his personal title to the rating sheet. He had 5 pictures and got here shut, one whipped left foot effort curling inches huge within the second half.

On the again, Cubarsí, 17, received the battle with Iñigo Martínez for a beginning berth and didn’t disappoint on his Champions League debut. He went toe-to-toe with Napoli’s hazard man Victor Osimhen, proving greater than up for the bodily battle. With the ball, making simply his twelfth first-team look, he as soon as once more excelled, finishing 61 of his 68 passes, a number of of them breaking the strains to arrange counter-attacking probabilities.

“He is unimaginable, he was the sport’s finest participant,” midfielder Sergi Roberto mentioned of Cubarsí’s efficiency. “He does not cease stunning us, within the final 16 of the Champions League and taking part in this manner … he is a participant who might be right here for his entire life.”

It’s outstanding that these younger gamers are already having such an affect on Barça’s senior facet. Towards Napoli, they grew to become the primary membership in Champions League knockout stage historical past to begin a number of gamers underneath age 18. They’ve now began three completely different gamers underneath 18 in a Champions League knockout stage match — the aforementioned duo and Bojan Krkic in 2008 — overtaking Bayern Munich‘s document (Jamal Musiala and David Alaba).

It’s vindication for La Masia in Barça’s hour of want. Since coach Xavi Hernández, who led Barça to a primary LaLiga title since 2019 final season, asserting he’ll step down in the summertime, outcomes have begun to enhance. They’re now unbeaten in 9 video games in all competitions. Along with the return of goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen from harm and using Andreas Christensen as a defensive midfielder, a big a part of that’s all the way down to Yamal and Cubarsí. López, one other participant from the membership’s academy, was additionally good for an hour earlier than tiring in opposition to Napoli.

There will probably be warning about simply how far Barça can go from right here. There have been some acquainted defensive flaws as they let Napoli again into the sport, Cancelo handing the appropriate flank to Matteo Politano, who teed up defender Amir Rrahmani to get the Serie A facet again within the sport earlier than half-time. There have been some nervy moments after the break, however Barça weathered the storm and deservedly sealed their passage into the final eight when substitute Roberto did properly to arrange Lewandowski.

Lewandowski’s nineteenth purpose of the season prompted wild scenes on the Olympic Stadium as your entire Barça bench spilled into the nook to have a good time. This was a major night time for the membership: their first Champions League knockout tie at house with followers because the semifinal in opposition to Liverpool in 2019 (Napoli and Paris Saint-Germain in 2020 and 2021 have been performed behind closed doorways). There was a terrific ambiance inside and outdoors the stadium — which has not at all times been the case this season at Barça’s short-term house, the place they’re taking part in whereas Spotify Camp Nou is redeveloped — and, ultimately, a end result to match.

Qualification additionally means a €10.6 million payday for the membership — plus income from one other huge house match — which is necessary as a result of they’d budgeted for a quarterfinal look of their annual accounts.

They might not progress any additional. Manchester Metropolis, Actual Madrid, PSG and Bayern Munich should still be out of their attain, however the membership are again the place they consider they belong. And, to be helped there by academy-developed expertise, will make it really feel even sweeter. They continue to be eight factors off the tempo in LaLiga, however Xavi’s dream send-off remains to be a chance in Europe.

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