There hasn’t been much positive news for Barcelona supporters as of late, but the return of Ansu Fati to the starting line-up for the first time since November 2020 against Valencia on Sunday evening provided reason for optimism.
His playing time in the shirt, though, has been severely limited. Sidelined by a succession of knee injuries, Fati has only managed to make three substitute appearances for the Blaugrana over the last ten months.
With Ronald Koeman’s side only having won a single game in their last six heading into this weekend’s fixture, the under-pressure Dutchman needed a big performance from his side – and Fati certainly delivered.
The home crowd must have had that now-familiar sinking feeling when Jose Gaya’s long-range effort gave Valencia the lead after just five minutes. Eight minutes later, however, Fati dragged Barcelona back into the game with a fine goal.
Following a slick exchange of passes with Memphis Depay on the edge of the penalty area, the Spanish international capped the move by finding the far corner of the net with a pinpoint right-footed finish.
It was a goal reminiscent of many that Messi himself scored during his time in Catalonia – albeit from the left rather than the right – and Fati wasn’t done there either. Before the break, he won a penalty which Depay converted to give Barcelona a 2-1 half-time lead.
Things could have got even better for Fati early in the second period. Only a sharp save from Valencia’s Jasper Cillessen prevented him from doubling his tally on the night.
Video: Ansu Fati’s impressive individual highlights vs Valencia
Mindful of a pair of crucial clashes against Dynamo Kiev and Real Madrid in the next seven days, Koeman withdrew Fati from the action after 58 minutes, replacing him with Philippe Coutinho.
It was the Brazilian that put the icing on the cake for Barca as he added a third goal for the home side five minutes from time. The star of the night, though, was undoubtedly Fati.
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Offering a spark that has been noticeably absent from Barcelona’s play since Messi left the club, Fati seems primed for the challenge of stepping into the shoes of the six-time Ballon d’Or winner.
So profound was the Argentinian superstar’s impact at Camp Nou that no player will even be able to truly replace him. With that said, Fati is already demonstrating signs of having formed an understanding with new frontman Depay and could prove crucial to Barca as they bid to break out of their current slump.
If the youngster can regularly contribute Messi-esque performances, he might well be the solution to the Blaugrana’s problems.
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