In a thrilling night in Catalunya, Barcelona smashed Valencia 5-2 at Camp Nou.
The win takes Barcelona to within two points of league leaders Atlético Madrid and saw several players really kickstart their season. What did we learn?
1. Ansu Fati: The Boy Wonder
Ansu Fati is 16 years old. When he was born, Gerard Piqué was 16 years old and had moved to Manchester United. That’s right, today he took the field with a player who is literally twice as old as he is. And the wildest thing is, he outperformed that veteran. Hell, he outperformed everyone except the guy who set him up for the opening goal (more on that later).
Oh, yeah, did we mention that Ansu Fati, 16-year-old making his first start in La Liga after scoring on his debut having come off the bench against Osasuna, opened the scoring? Because opened the scoring. Tearing in off that left-flank to meet a Frenkie de Jong cross and slam it home, low and smooth into the side of the net like some kind of right-footed Messi.
Five minutes later he had the ball down the left, danced through some Valencia players (he left Ezequiel Garay – another player twice his age – grasping at thin air with one bit of skill) and then squared the ball for Frenkie de Jong to slam home the club’s second goal. So for those keeping track that’s two goals scored and one goal created in his first 53 minutes of La Liga football.
Not bad, eh? And then the rest of his display was just great. Fearless and fearsome he drove hard at Valencia, never afraid to bet on himself or let fly at goal. Sure there were moments of obvious immaturity, times when he did silly things positionally, but for a player to possess so much confidence and tactical understanding at just 16?
Ansu Fati had 13 touches inside the opposition box during his 60 minutes on the pitch vs. Valencia, scoring one and providing an assist.
Only Carles Pérez (16 vs. Real Betis) has had more in a LaLiga game this season. pic.twitter.com/VzjmbdoP1o
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 14, 2019
Ansu already looks more comfortable in Blaugrana than Philippe Coutinho ever did. Ousmane Dembélé, too, looks more awkward than Ansu. This boy wonder looks born to play for Barça, and the standing ovation when he was taken off was both a beautiful sight for such a young La Masia product and also an encouraging sign that he is being saved to play against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. That is a huge boost to his stature but also a worrying sign for Dortmund’s defence. Ansu’s on his way!
2. Barcelona’s best midfield
All through pre-season Ernesto Valverde never paired Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong. The first time he did, the side could only draw with Barcelona. But here, he matched his two best midfielders with Arthur, his third best midfielder, and the results were spectacular.
For the first time in forever Barcelona had an absolute monster of a midfield that could press as well as they could pass. These were all three dimensional footballers who didn’t play in straight lines (like Ivan Rakitic and Sergi Roberto) and who were adept at dribbling, movement on and off the ball and precision passing. With them on the pitch the Blaugrana put Valencia in a brutal chokehold and only rarely did Los Che manage to slip through their grip and catch their breath.
Who could deny these geniuses? Frenkie in particular was just obscene. The Dutchman bagged a goal and assist whilst also pulling off a 100% pass accuracy, with all 54 of his passes finding their target. He is just ludicrous. Oh yes, did we gloss over the fact that he got a goal and an assist? Playing higher up on the left he can look uncomfortable, but put him on the right and it’s a different story. He killed Valencia with smiles. Well, smiles and passes.
Frenkie de Jong vs. Valencia:
• 54 passes attempted
• 54 passes completed
• 1 shot
• 1 goal
And an assist to cap a perfect performance. 💯 pic.twitter.com/t5HLeyuuaj
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 14, 2019
Obviously there was still room for improvement, but that’s what makes this trio so scary. They were this good and there was absolutely loads that they could do better in terms of positioning and structure and understanding of each other’s games. Once Barcelona get some serious minutes in this lot then they will be back to having the best midfield on the planet.
3. Valencia are a ghost
Having sacked Marcelino just days before travelling to the Camp Nou, no one was truly expecting anything much from Los Che in Catalunya. Instead what they got was a strange performance where flashes of Marcelino’s brilliance was there, clearly there. Valencia defended reasonably well and they drove the ball forward with piercing intensity too.
But all the good things came only in flashes. For the vast majority of the game they were being passed off the park by the Blaugrana and in the second half they absolutely vanished until the literal last second. They look like the ghost of Marcelino’s side, a half-remembered echo of a former life. And that has to be worrying for Los Che given the long season ahead of them.
Alright, they won’t be playing a side as good as Barcelona all season, but this is the worst defeat since the Gary Neville days. Marcelino may not have been perfect but his side never conceded five goals. And with every passing game, Los Che will be further and further away from Marcelino’s training. As a result that echo seen tonight will become more and more distant as Celades takes over.
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4. Can’t run, don’t need to.
Luis Suárez came on for Ansu Fati after an hour of the match. Within a minute he had smacked Barcelona into a 4-1 lead, and 21 minutes later he doubled his tally with Barcelona’s fifth. Suárez has been a player in decline for a while now but whilst his athletic ability has been in clear decline his technical skill has never left him. His problem is he runs around so much that he’s too tired when the ball is at his feet (and he can’t even run that well anymore).
His solution against Valencia was a novel one that recalled Ronaldo when the Brazilian was enormously out of shape playing for Brazil playing Japan in the 2006 World Cup. He couldn’t run but scored twice whilst taking a combined one step? A leaping header from standing and a turn and shoot effort that again involved no steps.
Suárez did just that to Valencia, twice. Standing on the edge of the box just after coming on he received a pass from Arthur, turned and clipped a gorgeous shot in off the near-post. He didn’t run, he didn’t have to. Then later Antoine Griezmann again laid the ball into his path and he simply stepped into a first-time shot and put the ball in exactly the same place. Suárez may be a limited athlete but given his supreme technique, as long as Barcelona deploy him sensibly, then he can still make a huge difference.
5. Barça bare their fangs at home
Barcelona have struggled away from home. They’ve played well at times in tricky away ties against Athletic Bilbao and Osasuna, but in both games they’ve failed to win. They lost at San Mamés following Aritz Aduriz’s wonderstrike and Roberto Torres also bagged a worldie (and a penalty) to deny them in Pamplona. It’s not been good on the road so far.
At home, however, Barcelona have been majestic. They’ve won both games 5-2 and have been utterly sensational. In both games the opponent only scored the second right at the death with the match already decided because Barcelona have, despite some ropey moments in defence, use the size of the pitch and their team’s technical excellence to devour opponents.
The addition of Leo Messi should dramatically improve their performances on the road, which only leaves one to wonder just how scary they might be at home if you take this XI and add the best player in the world. Like, seriously, Barcelona look like a work-in-progress but they could actually be a deadly dangerous side if things fall into place.