Ansu Fati has been one of the few bright spots at Barcelona this year, so let’s review the 19/20 season of the bright and sensationally surprising 17-year-old.
This is the third episode of a series in which we review the performances of the different Barça first team players, as well as discuss their futures for the next campaign. You can check the series here.
In a season full of disillusion, some shine brighter than others. Usually, when big clubs have dismal terms, they look back at their bright spots to build around them in the future. Barcelona have had their worst season in a long time, finishing trophyless and with the biggest embarrassment against Bayern Munich, but one player made everyone smile in the 2019/20.
Ansu Fati, the La Masía graduate, began the year as an emergency back-up, as Luis Suárez, Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembélé were all down injured in the first couple of months. The winger did not wait to impress the unimpressionable Camp Nou crowd with goals and sparkles that will last a lifetime.
When he came on at Camp Nou against Real Betis about a year ago, coming directly from the Juvenil A –– U19 A –– without even having debuted with Barça B, many interrogations surrounded him. First, would Ansu be a sustainable starter for his boyhood club or just a player to paper over the cracks when the superstars came back? Well, given his superb season, for a teenager, it’s fair to admit that the former has been the case with Ansu. The youngster came, saw and conquered in the space of a year. Beginning as a rookie and ending the year as a good option off the bench if not a starter.
Ansu made everyone forget the permanently injured Ousmane Dembélé. The then-16-year-old was one of the two bright lights, later along with Riqui Puig, when the team looked dim and drained. His first real performance came at the Camp Nou, a few days after becoming the second youngest debutant in the club’s history at 16 years and 298 days against Betis, and after scoring his first goal in a disappointing 2–2 draw away at Osasuna’s El Sadar. Against Valencia on 14 September 2019, the newbies showed so much promise. Frenkie de Jong for Ansu, followed by Fati to De Jong. It was superb. The midfielder and the winger found each other like two mates who played football for the longest time. Ansu made culés dream, believe there was light after Leo’s passage at Barça.
At 17 years and 40 days of age, against Inter Ansu Fati became the youngest goalscorer ever in the Champions League | Photo by Isabella Bonotto / AFP via Getty Images
Theoretically, a 17-year-old should not be used as much as Ansu has been. It’s unusual to see such talent in such a raw player, especially as his ability was spread over more than 20 games, and he found his feet in every one of them. His performance of the year came in February. With Quique Setién not impressing the masses with Barça, and losing at Mestalla in the previous La Liga game, he had to win at home against another team from the Valencian region, Levante. Ansu Fati was up for the fight. Two goals assisted by Leo Messi in the space of a minute, it was pure magic from the two La Masía graduates. Ansu was exceptional that day, scoring a brace, and it summed up his season. Sparkles and potential in such a short period of time made every Barça fan dream again, and light up their eyes.
Culés were proud, cherishing Ansu Fati like their child. It was impressive, and Ansu kept impressive. Before his performance of the season, the Guinea-Bissau-born winger wrote his name in the history books of the Champions League, Europe’s premier competition. Against Inter Milan in a tight group stage game, Ansu was gifted five minutes to show his talents, and he owned the place. A lovely one-two with Luis Suárez and the winger placed his shots in Samir Handanovic’s net, and that trademark shot would stick with him for the whole season.
His placed shots are lethal, and hopefully, he will work on it to become even more lethal from them, but his impressive goal against Leganés in June was the top of the bunch. This dull game was made all so bright by Ansu Fati’s rocket that went through Iván Cuéllar’s net straight into history. A few weeks later, Ansu would complete the round against Villarreal, placing his shot again and showing who the great Ansu Fati is.
“[Ronald] Araújo, Riqui Puig and Ansu will have first team numbers next season.”Josep Maria Bartomeu
All in all, Ansu Fati was the story of the season and will become a first-team member next year. Already deemed untouchable by president Josep Maria Bartomeu, Ansu is set to become the next big thing in Barcelona, and he will carry the team to new levels. Cheers to that.
What’s next for Ansu Fati?
Next season will be Ansu’s chance to impress more. After a successful breakthrough year, the winger’s performance will be under scrutiny, and he will have to show as much promise as he has during the last few games.
“Above all a team needs a footballer with speed. Look at the amount of problems that Vinícius Jr caused Barcelona. Now, they don’t have one that comes deep and looks to touch the ball a lot. I saw Ansu Fati doing very well because of his speed, and they need a footballer like him because the rest play to receive the ball.”Ronald Koeman before being appointed as Barça manager
With Ronald Koeman, a man who has shown and said multiple times that he plans on using the youth, Ansu has a real chance. Ansu will go right to the very top, perhaps reach Messi levels of legendary. La Masía is the gift that keeps on giving, and Ansu is just one of the presents around the Christmas table.
A 19/20 season review of the new faces: Pedri
In September 2019, Barcelona paid 5 million euros to secure the services of Pedri, who would have a standout debut 19/20 season with Las Palmas at 17. In this article, we analyse the attributes and main statistics of the young and extremely promising attacking midfielder.
This is the first episode of a series of articles that dive deep into a season review of the incoming new faces at Barcelona. You can check the 19/20 season reviews here.
As Ronald Koeman‘s new Barcelona is already taking shape, the youngest member to be joining the first team is Pedro González López, affectionately known as Pedri.
The 17-year-old from the Canary Islands has been a member of UD Las Palmas through and through, right from the youth team set-up to his professional debut in 2019 with the first team. Playing primarily as an attacking mid or left winger, Pedri showcased his attacking repertoire early enough to become an important member of the Las Palmas senior team and went on to play 2982 minutes for them.
His skillset didn’t go unnoticed at the bigger clubs, and soon enough, he was snatched up by Barcelona. So, what does the young midfielder bring to the table?
Pedri was, admittedly, not the biggest goal threat in his first senior season, but given his age, that’s not an issue at all. He scored 4 goals and gave 5 assists.
Watching his shot videos and looking at his shot-map, one can conclude that he does need to work a bit on the judicious choice of positions from where to take shots. For example, there were a bunch of shots from the right with his right foot – shooting from such acute angles is quite unnatural for someone who is not a natural goalscorer. There are also far too many shots from outside the box, most of which, as the videos suggest, are hopeful punts than accurate attempts.
Given below are a variety of his attacking stats – both the raw value and the percentile (mentioned inside parentheses) when compared to other wingers or attacking midfielders who played at least 1000 minutes in the Segunda División of Spain last season.
Data by Wyscout
While most numbers appear to be modest, do keep in mind that this was a 16-year-old playing his first professional season. And his assists, expected assists (xA) and dribbling percentiles are particularly encouraging. It shows he is not afraid to take risks, and we are going to get more glimpses of that further into the article.
But before we proceed, let’s take a look at an animation of the only goal he scored from outside the box:
It was a well-struck fist-time half-volley into the left bottom corner, giving Las Palmas a 1–0 home win against Sporting de Gijón in September 2019. It also marked Pedri’s fist goal as a professional.
A big issue that plagued Barcelona all season was an uncoordinated and lackadaisical defensive effort put in by the team in general. Very little defensive activity by Luis Suárez and Lionel Messi led to Barcelona effectively defending with nine men. A lot of old men in the midfield in the form of Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitić and Arturo Vidal also meant that the necessary speed to catch up with fast breaks was lacking as well.
All these afore-mentioned midfielders are very fine players – some of the top midfielders in their prime – but have grown old and lost a bit of their zip, which is much needed in the midfield right now. Meanwhile, Frenkie de Jong is very athletic, and Riqui Puig is deceptively fast, and both of them put in decent defensive numbers. And Pedri should complement them well were these three to take the field in a game together.
Pedri put in a good amount of defensive work for Las Palmas. Browsing through his videos, one can immediately conclude that Pedri is deceptively fast as well and good at reading runs, and he times and angles his own runs to cut the opponents off in their tracks and win back the ball.
Shown below are a variety of his defensive stats. Except for aerial duels – understandable as he is only 177 cms tall –, he ranks very high at every other metric:
Next, let’s take a look at Pedri’s passing characteristics, as shown below.
Pedri was highly involved in the attacking build-ups while maintaining a pretty decent passing accuracy for an attacking midfielder/winger hybrid. He played a lot of forward passes at decent accuracy – something that should bring smiles to the faces of the fans. The teenager is definitely someone who is not shy at taking risks and will mix it up with a decent range of long balls as well. Pedri played around 9 forward passes per 90 minutes, around 8 back passes per 90 minutes and the rest were lateral.
Once again, his video clips make it clear that he attempts to progress the ball and be vertical whenever possible, and the data corroborates that. But here comes the highlight of the article: his keypassing numbers.
What should be clarified right away here is that “dangerous passes” is a nickname I am using for all sorts of progressive and productive passes. This includes passes that lead to shots, assists and pre-assists, progressive passes etc. Let’s have a look at his numbers:
Here we see his greatest asset: his passing abilities to do something productive. And Pedri is outstanding at almost every single category. He ranks very highly in productive passes (which are passes leading to shots + 2nd assists + 3rd assists), passes to the final third and the penalty area, through balls, deep progressions and progressive passes, while also maintaining a reasonably good accuracy at each kind of pass.
This is arguably what attracted Barcelona, and the club will be well served by a passer who is already at this stage of calibre at such an early age. Let’s take a deeper look at his passes that led to shots and goals:
14 of his 19 key passes were into the penalty area – arguably the most dangerous area to take shots from. Only one of the key passes is a corner kick – everything else comes from open play, which is encouraging.
Watching the videos, three of the key passes that end outside the box came from fast breaks – counter-attacks – where Pedri carried the ball upfield from deep and laid it onto the path of his teammate, or found his teammate with accurate long balls from deep. So, even though they were far from the box, they led to extremely dangerous plays by Las Palmas.
Focusing on just the assists, it is easy to see how Pedri combines his speed at ball-carrying with his silky dribbling skills to get past opposition and create crucial amounts of space before finding a teammate with a laser-accurate pass:
And as a special gift to the readers, here is an animation of the assist that happens at the top right corner of the pitch in the viz above. Pedri makes a well-timed run to latch on to his teammate’s pass outside the box, before pulling off an outrageous piece of skill to dribble past his marker with a ‘Berbatov-flick-and-turn’, runs into the box and lays the ball off through two opposition players for his teammate to smash a goal in.
Pedri is an absolute gem, and along with Ansu Fati, Riqui Puig, Francisco Trincão and Frenkie de Jong, may well end up forming the core of a youth-based team. As such, Barcelona will do well to hold on to him and nurture him well. After an already promising – unofficial – debut against Nàstic de Tarragona on Saturday, culés can only hope for him to have a great season and future ahead.
Acknowledgements: I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Samuel Gustafson, writer at Barça Universal, in collating the data and the videos used in the above article