Arguably Napoli's biggest pre-season friendly is in the books, with Switzerland international Blerim Dzemaili getting a home-soil goal to give the Italian side a big win over Spanish giants Barcelona.
Things didn't start off terribly smoothly for the partenopei, with Barcelona putting in a number of early threats, and Ivan Rakitic making Walter Gargano look silly on a regular basis. Napoli were able to hold off the worst of Barcelona's attacks, though, with Raul Albiol, Kalidou Koulibaly, and Rafael Cabral all acquitting themselves well during the early shakiness.
Napoli were unable to generate their own sustained possession and attacks until after the 20th minute, but combinations from Marek Hamsik, Jorginho, Jose Callejon, and Duvan Zapata started causing problems for Barcelona's back line, especially once Zapata started to impose his superior physicality on Barca's smaller defenders. Jorginho and Hamsik in particular enjoyed success, with each finding space regularly to make their passes, though their targets were often well-covered with how Barcelona employed their defense.
The best chance of the half fell to Barcelona, as Rakitic made Gargano look silly for the umpteenth time and fed Pedro in space down the left in the 31st minute. Rafael was up to the challenge, however, and parried away Pedro's shot. A counter shortly after saw Lorenzo Insigne hit Zapata in the six-yard box with a good cross, but Zapata couldn't get a good grip on the ball and it went behind for a goal kick.
Napoli started the second half with a triple sub, bring on Faouzi Ghoulam, Michu, and Giandomenico Mesto for Christian Maggio, Duvan Zapata, and Miguel Britos. It took the new faces a few minutes to settle in, giving Barcelona several good chances in front of goal and deadening Napoli's attack. Fortunately, Barca's attackers couldn't get their shots on-target and the scoreline stayed even.
For some bizarre reason, when the next set of subs was made at the hour mark, Gargano was allowed to continue despite being a hindrance in midfield, as Gokhan Inler came on for Jorginho at the same time Dries Mertens replaced Lorenzo Insigne. Fortunately, Gargano was only on another 12 minutes, as Blerim Dzemaili was introduced for him on 72 minutes alongside Camilo Zuniga and Eduardo Vargas, who came on for Marek Hamsik and Jose Callejon.
Barcelona also made large numbers of subs at the hour and 75 minute marks, and afterwards the match settled in to a slightly disjointed and sloppy back-and-forth affair as friendlies so often do. Dzemaili was able to take advantage of that, though, and ripped off a shot from 30 yards straight away from goal, and thanks to a small deflection was able to beat Claudio Bravo and netted a spectacular goal.
Barca tried to push for an equalizer, forcing Rafael in to a lovely save of a driven shot from Gerard Deulofeu, but the Spaniards weren't able to find what they needed. As he had all match long, Koulibaly stepped up big again and again, breaking up several otherwise-dangerous Barcelona attacks and set pieces.
On a whole, it was an encouraging performance for Napoli. Barcelona dominated possession, but you expect them to do that. Napoli were able to hold them off when they came in to the final third, and looked dangerous on a regular basis when launching on the counter attack. Barca were lacking some of their best players, but that doesn't change the fact that this was a very impressive showing for Napoli, and an important one considering the big matches they have coming up in the Champions League.
Dzemaili may have scored the goal, but Napoli's top performer has to be Kalidou Koulibaly. The French defender was huge both literally and metaphorically, using his size and athleticism to thwart Barcelona over and over again. he did pick up a yellow card near the end of the first half on a sloppy foul, but otherwise there was nothing at all to complain about in his very, very impressive day. Koulibaly was considered more of a buy for the future, but if he keeps this kind of performance up as he has all pre-season so far, he could play a big and important role this season.
Napoli (4-2-3-1): Rafael; Maggio (Mesto 46'), Albiol (Luperto 85'), Koulibaly, Britos (Ghoulam 46'); Jorginho (Inler 60'), Gargano (Dzemaili 72'); Callejon (Zuniga 72'), Hamsik (Vargas 72'), Insigne (Mertens 60'); Zapata (Michu 46')
Goal: Dzemaili 80'
Barcelona (4-3-3): Bravo; Montoya, Pique (Ie 60'), Bartra (Bagnack 75'), Alba (Grimaldo 60'); Rakitic (Halilovic 60'), Busquets (Samper 60'), Iniesta (Roberto 60'); Rafinha (Traore 75'), Munir (Sandro 60'), Pedro (Deulofeu 75')