Newcastle vs Barcelona

Newcastle had qualified for this tournament with a second placed finish in Premier League play the previous season, when striker Alan Shearer led the way with 28 goals in all competitions. They then navigated the second qualifying round of this tournament in dramatic fashion when a 119th minute extra time goal from Temuri Ketsbaia proved the decisive strike in a 4-3 aggregate victory against Croatia Zagreb over two legs.

You can listen to a full length interview on the game with Newcastle right back Warren Barton, including his thoughts on the differences of playing for Kevin Keegan and Kenny Dalglish, while also revealing what it is like to mark a world great such as Luis Figo. Subscribe today to our Retro Football Analysis Podcast.

Starting Line Ups

Newcastle Starting X1

After winning their first two league fixtures of the season, the Magpies came into this game on the back of a defeat after falling 3-1 at the hands of Wimbledon the previous weekend, where defender Warren Barton had netted their lone goal.

Kenny Dalglish would inherit a Newcastle United side that had been built to operate within a very aggressive 4-4-2 system. This game takes place nine months into Dalglish’s reign and by this point there are a few alterations to the overall look and feel of the side.

Dalglish had sold Les Ferdinand to Tottenham in the summer prior to this game, and would suffer the added blow of Alan Shearer suffering a knee injury in pre-season that would leave him on the sidelines for a significant part of the season. Replacing this strike partnership would be a tough task for any coach, but in Faustino Asprilla they had someone still very capable to playing at the Champions League level. Accompanying the Colombian was young Danish striker Jon Dahl Tomasson, who’s work between the lines to link the game served as a decent foil for Asprilla’s forward movements.

On the left wing John Beresford was a strong attacking presence at full back, often overlapping the veteran John Barnes who moved inside like a central midfielder to combine and create attacks diagonally.

On the right side Warren Barton was more conservative in his positioning, which was designed to protect the space behind Keith Gillespie who was tasked with attacking the flank at every opportunity.

There was a good balance in midfield with Rob Lee attacking from deep, often running beyond the line of the ball to stretch the central space, and was complimented by the defensive strength of David Batty who protected the spaces in front of the back four.

Both Albert and Watson were competent defenders, each showing a level of comfort in possession that allowed Newcastle to build out from the back but also strike passes over distance successfully.

Barcelona Starting X1

Barcelona qualified for the tournament after finishing second behind Real Madrid in La Liga during the 1996/1997 season, a campaign which also saw them win the Copa Del Rey, Supercopa de Espana and the Cup Winners’ Cup. Brazilian superstar Ronaldo had led the way with 47 goals before being lured away by Inter Milan for a world record fee of $27 million.

The Catalans were coming off a perfect start to the season, having won all three of their La Liga games so far with another Brazilian star Rivaldo registering three goals.

This was Louis Van Gaal’s first season in charge of FC Barcelona and almost immediately we can see the workings of a very detailed and structured 4-3-3 system.

Despite this game taking place in 1997 this FC Barcelona side have a very contemporary feel to the way they play, with players moving in rotations that appear free and creative but are heavily coached within a model we’d now call positional play.

The first hallmark of this can be found in the positioning of Barcelona’s wingers. Both began the attacks stretching the full width of the field, but as the ball entered the final third Amunike would attack the flank like a true winger, where as Figo would drift inside and attack on the diagonal.

Behind the wingers both full backs would narrow to form a three man screen alongside Ivan de la Pena, with de la Pena also dropping between center backs Nadal and Celades to stretch the space and allow for more angles to pass forward from. The inversion of the full backs is something we have saw from Guardiola in the last decade, something that appears other worldly in 1997.

De La Pena’s build up play was very positive, looking to play penetrative passes into Rivaldo or Luis Enrique where available, as they’d typically position themselves in advanced areas between Newcastle’s midfield and defensive lines.

Anderson dropped to link the game like a false 9, moving into the spaces between the lines and enticing the Newcastle center backs to come out and press the ball.

Match Report

Newcastle flew out of the gate in front of a fired up home crowd and won a wide free kick within the opening minute when a twisting, turning run by Asprilla was halted with a foul by Michael Reiziger. Maintaining the high octane start, Asprilla took the free kick quickly and rolled it back to John Beresford, but the fullback’s poor cross was easily intercepted and Barca launched an end to end counter attack that resulted in Sergi Barjuan crossing into the hands of Shay Given.

Barcelona flashed good skill and movement in the opening stages, but it was Newcastle who would create the first big chance when Steve Watson strode out of the back and found the feet of Asprilla who had his back to goal. Asprilla played to John Barnes with a one touch pass, and Barnes released Tomasson, only for the Denmark international striker to roll his shot wide of the target.

Newcastle midfield enforcer Batty received an early yellow card in the 7th minute when he tracked the run forward of Luis Enrique before hauling the midfielder down by the shoulders. Figo sent in the free kick and his cross found its way to Anderson who fired a deflected shot that was comfortably saved by Given.

Striker Asprilla was pulling strings in the early stages and dropped deep into midfield to pick up possession and release Keith Gillespie down the right flank. Gillespie drove forward and sent a cross into the area, but a poor touch by Tomasson saw the chance go to waste.

Barcelona won a free kick 25 yards out in the 15th minute, when Watson was whistled for a high foot on Figo. De La Pena stepped up to take the free kick, but his effort was smashed straight into the wall.

Barcelona were having plenty of possession, with De La Pena and Rivaldo standing out in particular. However, the Catalans were struggling to carve out clear cut chances against the hard working Geordies. Luis Enrique picked up the ball out wide and cut inside under good defensive pressure from Barnes, eventually playing an errant pass backwards that Asprilla seized upon inside the center circle. Asprilla drove all the way into the Barca penalty area but no foul was given when he was dispossessed by a well timed sliding tackle from Nadal.

One tactic that was helping Barcelona gain the upper hand in terms of possession was the inverted fullback strategy that saw Sergi and Reiziger float inside to join Luis Enrique and De La Pena and give the Catalans extra numbers in the central midfield area. At the same time, both center backs split wide and the wing duo of Figo and Amunike provided the wide outlet option.

A penalty was awarded in the 22nd minute, and it was again the result of Asprilla running rampant. Lee won possession in midfield and slid a pass to Tomasson who drove forward before threading a ball into the penalty area where Asprilla was streaking onto it with a diagonal run. Asprilla took a touch around goalkeeper Ruud Hesp and was brought down by the goalkeeper as Italian referee Pierluigi Collina pointed to the spot.

Goalkeeper Hesp got a hand to Asprilla’s penalty kick, but the Colombian’s well placed shot still found the back of the net to put the home team 1-0 up.

Television graphics in the 28th minute illustrated that Barca had managed to have 59% of possession, but it was Newcastle, and Asprilla in particular who carried the bigger scoring threat.

Belgian center back Albert also helped Newcastle going forward, displaying the ability to dribble out of the back in possession, step high into midfield areas as an extra man and also find dangerous balls forward to launch counter attacks.

Another problem for Barcelona was the forward runs of Lee from deep positions in central  midfield, and De La Pena found himself booked in the 30th minute for pulling Lee’s shirt to slow down a counter attack.

The resulting free kick was awarded inside the center circle, but still became the source of Newcastle’s second goal. Watson played the ball out to Gillespie on the right wing, where the Northern Ireland winger took a touch past Sergi and whipped in a beautiful cross for Asprilla to get in front of Albert Celades and head home at the near post. The Colombian striker wheeled away and marked the goal with his trademark cartwheel celebration.

Barca responded by creating their best chance of the game so far in the 32nd minute. Amunike sent in a cross and Anderson laid the ball off to Rivaldo, but the Brazilian pulled his shot wide of the target.

Speedy Nigerian winger Amunke was being marshalled tightly for long spells by the Newcastle defense, with winger Gillespie tracking back consistently. This allowed right back Warren Barton to sit inside in a position to block the cross or cover should Amunike penetrate off the dribble.

The away team kept up the pressure and won a shooting range free kick when Luis Enrique was fouled by Beresford 25 yards out. Rivaldo took the free kick but his effort hit the wall and looped behind for a corner. The corner from Sergi was cleared by Barnes at the near post and Newcastle launched a counter attack that ended when Gillespie’s cross was headed clear by Reiziger.

Newcastle were finding no issue creating chances against the Barcelona back line, and in the 43rd minute, Barnes picked out GIllespie who crossed for Lee to guide a diving header wide.

Barcelona had one last chance before the end of the half, but Sergi’s cross was headed wide of the target by Rivaldo.

Manager Louis van Gaal made a substitution at halftime, withdrawing the largely ineffective Amunike for Dragan Ciric. Having seen off Amunike in the first half, Newcastle right back Barton would now see a different kind of challenge as Figo switched to the left wing for the second half with Ciric lining up on the right.

The visitors created the first chance of the second half when Luis Enrique teed up Rivaldo but the resulting shot was comfortably saved by Given.

Newcastle went into a 3-0 lead in the 49th minute and once again the direct wing play of Gillespie broke down Barca. Lee played a pass to Gillespie inside the Newcastle half, before the winger beat Sergi and drove 30 yards down the flank and whipped in a pinpoint cross for Asprilla to rise and plant a header past Hesp.

The performance of right winger Gillespie was a fullback’s nightmare, and an example of wing play that any young winger could learn from to this day. The single minded winger showed the ability to create space for a cross, beat a defender off the dribble and consistently provide an end product in the form of a quality delivery into the box.

The third goal appeared to rattle Barcelona, and almost immediately following the kickoff an unpressured Luis Enrique sprayed an errant pass out wide that sailed out for a Newcastle throw in.

Roared on by a buoyant crowd, Newcastle continued to play to their strengths, and Barton fed Gillespie who drove forward before sending in yet another cross for Asprilla who had his header saved by Hesp.

Barcelona countered with a flank attack of their own, and Rivaldo’s cross was eventually hacked behind for a corner by Beresford.

Sergi’s ball into the box was headed behind by Lee to concede another corner, before Figo swung in a corner from the other side, only for Lee to clear the danger.

Portuguese star Figo provided Newcastle right back Barton with a different type of threat to deal with than Amunike had in the first half. While Figo lacked the pace of his Nigerian teammate allowing Barton to press him tighter, his ability on the ball saw him twist and turn on the dribble, while also showing the ability to cut inside and provide a threat.

Barcelona continued to search for a way back into the game and won a shooting range free kick when Rivaldo was fouled by Tomasson. Rivaldo got up to take the kick himself, but curled his effort over the crossbar.

Playmaker in chief RIvaldo was soon involved again as he dropped a pass back from the byline to Ciric who attempted a cross that was deflected behind for a corner by Barnes.

Before the corner was taken, manager Van Gaal subbed off center forward Anderson and replaced him with Christophe Dugarry as his team chased a goal. The first action after the introduction of Dugarry was Given coming off his line well to claim Sergi’s cross.

Newcastle won a 64th minute corner when Lee cut inside from the left flank and De La Pena knocked the ball behind, but referee Collina whistled for a foul on Albert to end the threat. Another corner was awarded to Newcastle minutes later when Albert released Gillespie down the right flank, and Sergi conceded a corner with his tackle. Tomasson and Gillespie worked a short corner routine that led to Barton delivering a cross that sailed into the hands of Hesp.

Rivaldo picked up the ball around 35 yards out in the 62nd minute, and unleashed a powerful long range shot that was deflected away by Given. Barcelona continued to press and won a corner soon after when Figo’s shot was deflected behind by Batty.

Given claimed Sergi’s corner and sent a punt forward to Asprilla who produced a spectacular first touch over the defenders head, only for the ball to go a yard too far and allow Celades to sweep up possession.

Barcelona won their 8th corner of the game when a Dugarry header was blocked, before Barton hacked it behind. Figo’s corner was headed clear before an attempted counter attack stalled when Tomasson overhit an intended through ball to Asprilla.

Television graphics in the 67th minute displayed the fact that Barcelona continued to have the upper hand in terms of possession with 59%, and the Catalans came forward once more only for Ciric to slice a cross out of play.

Substitute Ciric found himself in possession again a minute later, and this time won a corner when Watson blocked his cross behind. Sergi took the corner and found Nadal, who had his shot spectacularly tipped over the crossbar by Given. Two more corners from Sergi were cleared behind by the defense, and a third was cleared to concede a throw in deep inside the Newcastle half. Sergo fed Ciric from the throw and received the ball back before being crowded out by a combination of Beresford and Batty.

De La Pena released Sergi with a slide rule through ball form inside his own half, but the fullback’s shot was dragged well wide.

Barcelona did finally pull a goal back courtesy of a well worked move in the 73rd minute. De La Pena found Rivaldo who split the defense with a well weighted through ball for Figo to latch onto. The Portuguese winger picked up possession in the right sided channel before sending over a cross that Luis Enrique diverted past Given using his chest. Without celebration, Luis Enrique immediately picked the ball up out of the net and ran back to halfway as his team looked to produce a dramatic comeback.

The possession count ticked up to 61% in favor of Barca as the game entered the final 15 minutes, and the pressure was turned up as Rivaldo picked up a Figo pass on the edge of the penalty area and beat Watson with a wonderful first touch before having his shot well saved by Given.

Newcastle released the pressure when the irrepressible Asprilla picked the ball up around the halfway line before dribbling 30 yards and being fouled on the edge of the penalty area. Asprilla got up to take the free kick himself but blazed his effort high over the crossbar.

Making light of the absence of club legend Shearer, striker Asprilla produced one of the great individual performances in the history of the UEFA Champions League. The striker picked up possession all over the field, beat defenders off the dribble with ease and also managed to convert his dominance into goals.

From the resulting goal kick, Barca’s attempts to build possession were ended when Beresford intercepted the ball on halfway and passed to Asprilla who carried forward before guiding a shot wide of the target.

Manager Kenny Dalglish made a defensive substitution to try and preserve his team’s precious lead in the final stages, withdrawing striker Tomasson in favor of defender Darren Peacock.

The extra defensive strength would likely be needed as Barcelona continued to push forward and raise nerves among the home crowd. A lovely touch by Rivaldo released Ciric, and the winger cut back to Rivaldo who was denied by another excellent Given save.

Rivaldo was presented with another shooting chance when Beresford was whistled for a foul on the edge of the penalty area, and the Brazilian star rattled the crossbar with his shot.

Dalglish made another substitution to inject fresh legs in the 81st minute, withdrawing veteran winger Barnes and sending on the energetic Ketsbaia.

The corner count ticked to 13-3 in favor of Barca when Beresford deflected Sergi’s cross behind, Sergi whipped in a dangerous corner, and Rivaldo’s header was cleared off the goal line by Batty as the Toon Army held on.

Amid long spells of being pinned back on the defensive, Newcastle made a break of their own in the 86th minute when Gillespie raced away before guiding his shot wide of the target.

The buoyant Geordie crowd were starting to sense glory, but anxiety and tension rose in the stadium when Barcelona pulled the score back to 3-2 from a corner in the 89th minute. Given fumbled Sergi’s corner before Barton’s clearance found Figo on the edge of the penalty area, where the Portuguese winger settled the ball and fired a shot into the bottom corner of the net.

Barcelona had left themselves little time to claw the game back, but came forward again and an injury time cross from Rivaldo found Dugarry who headed wide of the target.

Fittingly, it was Asprilla who would run out the clock, drawing two fouls in the corner before holding possession until the final whistle blew on a famous result for the Toon Army.


The result sparked a great start to UEFA Champions League play for Newcastle, who followed it up by coming back from two goals down to draw 2-2 on the road at Dynamo Kyiv. Sadly, three consecutive defeats would follow, twice at the hands of PSV Eindhoven before falling in the rematch at Barcelona 1-0. A last day 2-0 win over eventual group winner Dynamo would be too little, too late to avoid elimination.

Newcastle would make the FA Cup Final courtesy of a semi final winning goal by a now healthy Shearer over Sheffield United, but fall 2-0 to Arsenal at the final hurdle. After a promising start in Premier League play, league form would also fall away and Newcastle won only one of their last five games on the way to a 13th place finish.

That would not take away from the historic nature of this game, with the result and hat-trick from Asprilla going down as a fondly remembered chapter in the clubs history.

Barcelona followed this game up with a 2-2 draw against PSV in Group C play, before two consecutive defeats at the hands of Kyiv left them in a hole they would not recover from in terms of qualification.

Barca did recover from the early elimination out of Champions League play to produce a very successful season on the domestic front, as 28 goals in all competitions from Rivaldo fired them to glory in the shape of a La Liga title, a Copa Del Rey win and a 3-1 aggregate win over Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Super Cup.


22’ NEW Faustino Asprilla PK 1-0

31’ NEW Faustino Asprilla (Keith Gillespie) 2-0 

49’ NEW Faustino Asprilla (Keith Gillespie) 3-0

73’ BAR Luis Enrique (Luis Figo) 3-1

89’ BAR Luis Figo (Sergi Barjuan) 3-2


#11 CF Faustino Asprilla (Newcastle United) – Dynamite performance from the center forward who picked up the ball over the field, penetrated off the dribble and showed aerial dominance in the process of scoring a historic hat-trick.

Newcastle United

3:  CF Faustino Asprilla – Man of the Match.

2:  RM Keith GIllespie – Spectacular performance and a lesson in wing play from the Northern Ireland international, who torched Spain international Sergi time and again, also providing two assists for Asprilla with pinpoint crosses. Gillespie was also a key part of Newcastle’s defensive game plan, tracking back to support Barton well all game.

1:  CM David Batty – The defensive heart of Newcastle’s midfield, made a series of blocks and tackles while also doing his best to monitor the movement of Rivaldo. Produced a key goal line clearance in the second half as his team clung on to win all three points.

FC Barcelona 

3:  ACM Rivaldo – The focal point of Barca’s attack, found space between the lines all game and also showed ability to keep possession and complete passes when tightly marked. Split the Newcastle back four on multiple occasions with clever through balls.

2:  M Luis Figo – Playing on both wings throughout the course of the game, Figo broke in behind and crossed for Barca’s first goal before scoring himself to set up a grandstand finish.

1:  CM Ivan De La Pena – Pulled strings throughout the game as Barcelona dominated possession, completed passes consistently and switched the point of attack well as his team probed for goals during the second half.


NEW:  Given, Beresford, Albert, Watson, Barton, Barnes (Ketsbaia), Batty, Lee, Gillespie, Tomasson (Peacock), Asprilla.

BAR:  Hesp, Sergi, Nadal, Celades, Reiziger, De La Pena, Luis Enrique, Rivaldo, Amunike (Ciric), Figo, Anderson (Dugarry).

Data Report

Value of Chances

xG Timeline:

While Barcelona would record just over double the amount of attacks than Newcastle, it would take until the 73rd minute for them to surpass Newcastle in the overall valuation of their attack play. The first thirty minutes was a cagey and tentative match, seeing 4 attacks in total (between both teams) whereas after this initial period of feeling their way into the game it would be Barcelona who would launch attacks on a far more consistent basis, yet it was the hosts who’d attack in a far more clinical nature, scoring 2 goals from only 4 1st half attacks.

There is a period between the 55th and 75th minute that we could argue the hosts rode their luck, as Barcelona would unleash a blitz of attacks that would total what Newcastle created in the entire match.

Chance Value:

This is where Newcastle’s performance really comes to the fore, as they would create 3 big chances in the match from only 11 attacks, and all of which would result in a goal. In a match where Newcastle were probably expected to have less of the ball, the way they advanced forward on the counter and were able to foster attacks on target was impressive, but more so was their ability to turn these efforts into goals at key times.

Barcelona would only create 1 big chance in the match, an effort which also resulted in a goal, but their overall attack play did see a solid amount of upticks. There were a decent amount of blocked efforts, which perhaps suggests they weren’t able to make the best use of the attacking space available to them, albeit compacted by the Newcastle defence, but overall Barcelona matched their actual goals with their xG numbers, which often suggests a fair outcome.

Type of Chances Created

Examining Newcastle’s approach play it is almost immediately apparent that they favored counter attack play through Keith Gillespie on the right wing. Further to that I’d also add in that Gillespie was up against arguably one of the most athletic players on the field, Barjuan Sergi, who was almost always in a defensive tussle with the Northern Irish winger. This shows us that not only has Gillespie performed well, but done so under sever duress from an International level defender. Gillespie would create 4 key passes from crosses into the box, all highlighted in black from the right wing area, with three of these creating attacks on target, and two of these efforts resulting in a goal. Overall from Newcastle’s 8 Key Passes (creative movements that would result in a shooting opportunity for a teammate) we’d see 4 of them hit the target, which is a solid return considering they’d only have 11 attacks overall.

Barcelona’s key pass locations would be more spread out, however a sizeable portion would also come from the right hand side. This side was manged by Figo in the first half, but in the second we’d see more actions from substitute Ciric in this area, as well as Luis Enrique pulling into the wide area to create movements to goal.

Given Barcelona’s patient approach play its not surprising that 10 of their Key passes would be created by passages of build up play, however in terms of efficency we’d actually see a better return on counter attacks. From Build up only 3 of the 10 creative actions would result in a shot on target, where as 2 of the 5 counter attacks would test Shay Given in the Newcastle net. Barcelona’s set up play saw 6 key passes coming from short ball movements, either a set back or a cut back, but they’d also cross the ball 5 times to create attacks, albeit a decent majority of these came from their sizeable set piece attack play.

While it was apparent that Barcelona opted for territory over penetration in their approach play, this at times did leave them very vulnerable on the counter, and the next set of stats will underline that further.

Where Chances are Created

With a player of Rivaldo’s quality in the team, its inevitable that there will be shots from distance in the match, but we’d also see Luis Figo and Luis Enrique chip in with some speculative efforts. The evidence for attempting these strikes is brought forward by the Figo goal late in the game, as the Newcastle defenders arguably blocked any vision the keeper may have had in order to make a save. Overall Barcelona’s performance was in line with their xG, which shows us that their output matched it’s xG value. Yet if we look at the xG from the attacks on target, it shows us that they’ve probably done well to get two goals, especially as the 2nd goal from Figo had such low probability.

If we analyze Barcelona’s performance inside the box, we see that of their 9 attacks 8 of them came from inside the golden zone (central portion of the 18 yard box). 8 golden zone efforts is a solid return in a single game, however only 3 of these would hit the target, two being saved and one turning in a goal.

Overall Barcelona would have 23 shots in total, with only 7 of these testing the keeper, a number that perhaps suggests poor performance somewhere along the line. Yet we also have to consider that 10 of these 23 efforts were blocked by Newcastle, this shows a desire from the hosts to get close to their opponents and make life hard for them. We can of course debate whether Barcelona’s approach play was good enough, but something we cannot deny is how Barcelon’as positioning in attack would leave them open to the movements of Gillespie and Asprilla, both of whom would punish Barcelona for their inability to transition defensively with any real purpose.

7 of Newcastles shots on goal would come from inside the box, with the highest % of these shots (3 from 7) coming from counter attack opportunities. Asprilla was deadly inside the box, showing terrific movement and an unstoppable leap to head home a cross not once, but on two separate occasions. In each of these three counter attacks which ended inside the box Asprilla would test the keeper, with the first of which resulting a goal.

Overall Newcastle would see their efforts on target level out by some missed opportunities from distance (11 attacks overall, 5 on target and 6 off target), but even with that considered their xG on target score was exceptional. 77% of Newcastle’s xG value came from efforts on target, bearing in mind that xG is calculated by the position of the shot not the outcome, the xGOT gives us a better understanding of a teams efficiency infront of goal.  In comparison we see that Barcelona’s xGot accounts for only 38% of their xG coming from efforts on target, it hopefully now gives us a better picture of how impressive this display from Newcastle really was.

Who Created Chances

Newcastle’s best statistical attacker in the match was never in doubt, and is awarded to Faustino Asprilla. His tour de force performance saw him record 8 of Newcastle’s 11 attacks, 5 of which were on target and returned 3 goals. His personal xG was 1.457 for the match, which accounts for 86% of Newcastle’s overall xG value.

Barcelona’s highest statistical performer was Rivaldo, who also wracked up the attacks in the game. He would better Asprilla by recording 10 attacks overall, and a further two key passes for his teammates. Even though only 3 of these attacking efforts would result in a shot on target, he’d contribute a personal xG score of 0.825 and play a considerable role in Barcelona’s comeback into the match.  

Match Simulator

RFA Match Simulator to replay the match 1000 times, and in doing so calculating the accumulative win percentage based on the probability of each shot. Here are the results:

About the Author

Picture of Stewart Flaherty

Stewart Flaherty

Stewart is a native of Middlesbrough, England, and is a graduate of Loughborough University with a master's degree in sport psychology. Stewart has an extensive background in football, working with a variety of NCAA college soccer programs, as well as working with several leading youth clubs in the USA. Stewart is currently serving as Technical Director within a men's professional soccer club.

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