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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 4 March 2021

Ansu Fati offers Barcelona the promise of a bright future in the post-Lionel Messi era

17-year-old continues to impress in first team as he scores twice against Levante

On a mild February night, Barcelona’s lowest weekend crowd of the season – 60,295 – came to see if Quique Setien’s team could close the gap on Real Madrid to three points. The late 9pm kick-off didn’t help the attendance, nor did the timing, only three days after another cup home game watched by just 43,216. Barca may court a global audience, but they shouldn’t forget their fans who go to games.

Opponents Levante weren’t expected to cause a problem since they’d lost all 14 of their previous visits to Camp Nou. And there was no option after the hosts' defeat of last week to Valencia, Levante’s city neighbours. Barcelona reacted well by beating Leganes 5-0 in the cup midweek, but the league matters more.

The Catalans were excellent in the first half, stretching Levante with the combinations between Lionel Messi and Ansu Fati the key. Messi set up the opening goal after 30 minutes with the most incredible move. Receiving the ball in his own half with his back to goal, Messi turned and hit a low left foot pass through the Levante defence. Fati ran onto it, brushed off his marker Miramon, sending the defender into a spin before shooting low past Fernandez into the net.

While Setien rightly praised his side’s defence for the way they brought the ball forward, it was the Messi-Fati partnership that made the difference. Two minutes after the 30th minute opener, Messi again set Fati up for the second.

At 17 years and 94 days Fati became the youngest player to score two goals in La Liga. He’s already the youngest player to score in Champions League history, the youngest ever to score for Barca, the youngest to score at Camp Nou, and the youngest to score and assist in a game in La Liga.

Fans who sing “Ansu Fati has arrived” about their child prodigy hope that he can go some way in replacing Messi, 32, when he retires.

Messi loves the young forward, with Fati repaying him by creating chances from the left for the Argentinian. Fati’s passing is accurate, he makes more passes in the final third of the field than any other player, he makes tackles high up the pitch to win the ball back which is demanded by Barcelona’s game. And he shoots – five against Levante with three of them on target and two resulting in goals.

The Catalans couldn’t reproduce their first half performance, Messi, Griezmann and Fati all missing chances in the second. Levante’s Rochina scored a 92nd minute goal which gave the match a 2-1 scoreline Levante didn’t deserve. For Barca there is no underestimating the importance of this win.

“I spent many years watching him play,” said Fati of his link-up with Messi. "It’s a dream to line up next to him. I dreamed of this moment and today it has come true.” Fati was man of the match, with right-back Nelson Semedo also impressive.

“He’s a player who is emerging,” was Setien’s verdict on Fati. “He is working hard. He gives us solutions.”

Barcelona’s new boss is still in his honeymoon period but he took over with Barca at the top of the league and if he fails to win the title, which would be the club’s ninth in twelve years, he’ll be criticised.

Fati gives him a much-needed attacking dimension which will help without the injured Luis Suarez and Ousame Dembele. Fati was used sparingly in the first half of the season but he’s started all five games since a match at Espanyol on January 4.

The Blaugrana now have two away games, at Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey quarter final on Thursday and at Setien’s former club Real Betis on Sunday. Their away form has been poor. They can’t afford to continue like that in their next two games against big clubs.

Published: February 3, 2020 05:51 PM

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