The Blaugrana are still
trying to re-sign the Brazilian but why, when they have the likes of
Fati, who netted in Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Osasuna?
With Barcelona’s bid to bring Neymar back from Paris Saint-Germain stalling on Friday, two young talents from La Masia showed in a 2-2 draw at Osasuna the following day why the club should instead place their trust in their own youth system.
Ansu Fati and Carles Perez played key roles at El Sadar, in a game
that offered welcome relief from the seemingly endless speculation over
the potential return of the prodigal son.
Perhaps all of the Neymar transfer talk put Barcelona off their
stride because, in the first half, they offered nothing positive going
Coach Ernesto Valverde selected the same side which thrashed Real Betis 5-2 last weekend, but they got short shrift from their enthusiastic – and sometimes agricultural – hosts in Pamplona.
Roberto Torres broke the deadlock after seven minutes, emphatically
lashing past Marc-Andre ter Stegen, with the Barcelona defence utterly
The visitors failed to get their act together before the break, unable to muster a single shot either on or off target.
But things changed when Valverde brought on Fati, who became the
club’s second-youngest debutant last weekend with a cameo against Betis.
With Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez or Ousmane Dembele all once again
available due to their respective injury issues, young guns like Fati
and Perez had a chance to shine.
And shine they did, with Perez crossing for Fari to power home a header six minutes into the second half.
“Hostia!” Fati to himself after celebrating becoming the youngest goalscorer in Barca history. “Bloody hell!” indeed.
He could not believe it. Few could. In netting in Pamplona, Fati had also become the third-youngest player ever to score in La Liga at 16 years and 304 days, behind only Fabrice Olinga (16 years 98 days) and Iker Muniain (16 years 289 days).
Fati, who received a big hug from Messi after his debut last weekend,
will doubtless get an even bigger embrace from the club captain for
what was a perfect header.
It was a notable one, too, with Ansu’s goal the first Osasuna have conceded at El Sadar since April.
It was reward not just for Fati and La Masia, but for Valverde too.
Barcelona’s coach is often maligned – sometimes fairly, sometimes
not – but it was at the least brave to give Fati 45 minutes at one of
the league’s toughest grounds to visit.
Indeed, Barcelona always struggle here; Pep Guardiola didn’t even manage one victory at Osasuna.
In that context, other coaches might have thrown Fati on in the final
10 minutes, hoping blindly for some kind of last gasp contribution.
But Valverde adjusted his tactics to find room for Fati, resisting
the understandable temptation to just swap him with the other youngster
in the attack – Perez.
Instead it was Nelson Semedo who made way for Fati at half-time, with
Sergi Roberto shifted back into defence and the newcomer deployed on
the left of the attack, with Rafinha dropping into midfield.
Perez – allowed to stay on more for his determination and willingness
to run at the defence than for any quality he showed in the first
half – delivered the perfect ball for Fati to head home.
The 21-year-old winger also teed up Arthur for Barcelona’s second
goal, nudging the ball on to the Brazilian, who calmly worked some space
for himself before finishing with aplomb.
That was further reward for Valverde, who also introduced Arthur
early in the second half as he looked for more control. Two
substitutions, two goals – not too shabby.
Of course, with such inexperienced players in the side, there will always be moments of naivety.
Perez certainly took the wrong option in the final stages when he might have earned Barcelona the win.
After Torres had levelled from the spot, a sensational through ball
from Arthur put Perez clean through. However, instead of finishing or
finding the supporting Antoine Griezmann, the youngster suffered a loss
of composure and the ball inched away from him, allowing Osasuna
goalkeeper Ruben Martinez to intervene.
It cost Barcelona two points, but giving players coming through the
youth system a platform could end up saving the club millions.
About €220m, to be precise…