For the first time in a long time, Barcelona played a European football match on a Thursday evening.
Their return to the Europa League – making it their first foray into the competition since it was renamed the UEFA Cup – ended in a 1-1 draw against Italian side Napoli.
Xavi’s side dominated the game and missed a string of chances to win the first leg of their knockout play-off (although that was largely the fault of Ferran Torres).
The head coach opted to start the game with his trio of new forwards up front, with Torres and Adama Traore alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
While the Spanish wingers enjoyed a relatively quick start to their Barca careers, the former Arsenal captain has had to make do with cameo appearances since his transfer to Catalonia after the deadline.
The need for a new striker at Camp Nou was evident in a depressing first half of the season for Barcelona, who relied a little too heavily on Memphis Depay to replace the outgoing Lionel Messi.
Aubameyang’s performance on Thursday wasn’t a win but he displayed most of the attributes you’d expect from a Blaugrana leader. He pressed relentlessly, dropped deep to drive from midfield and excelled at bringing others into the game.
But that last part prevented a great start from being a Great a. Aubameyang was perhaps too selfless on his first start, registering just two shots – both from range – despite coming from decent positions.
Thursday night was dominated by Torres’ complete inability to kick a ball properly despite not being placed for him at the penalty spot. Aubameyang was sometimes only the supporting role when he should have played the main role.
Over the past few weeks, Xavi has already spoken lyrically about Aubameyang’s positive influence in the dressing room, proving to be a role model for a young Barcelona side.
The former midfielder will no doubt also be encouraged by Gabon’s generosity on the pitch, but sooner or later he will need his star striker to show the devastating form that terrorized Europe in the 2010s.
Goals are ultimately the reason Aubameyang was brought to Barcelona and the Blaugrana are going to need them as a differential on nights like this if they want to reach the Champions League again.
That’s no criticism of Aubameyang – he was one of Barca’s best players on Thursday – but after a few lackluster years at the end of his Arsenal career, it would be reassuring to know he still has plenty of goals. In him.
His next chance comes in a crucial La Liga clash with Valencia at the weekend before facing Napoli again next Thursday. I expect Aubameyang to have his say.