At this point in time, one cannot be blamed to think that FC Barcelona is sinking in every sense of the word. Their start to the season has been the worst in decades. While they have won all their group games in the Champions League so far, when it comes to La Liga, they are languishing in the middle of the table.
Their backline has been frail and they have been conceding goals galore. And now to worsen it further, they have lost three out of their four first-team central defenders to injury. It is therefore easy to give up on this team.
Then again such is life, the day gives way to night and vice versa. This dark night that FC Barcelona are shrouded in — as scary as it is — has also unearthed some streaks of light. A young crop of torchbearers who can lead the team into the daylight. Leading them from the front would be Ansu Fati, who recently finished runner up in The Golden Boy, an award handed out by Italian newspaper Tuttosport to the best U21 of a season in men’s football.
The Rise to Stardom
Anssumane Fati began pulling on the Blaugrana shirt at the age of ten when he joined the Sevilla youth team set up to join La Masia in 2012. Within a matter of seven years, the youngster from Guinea Bissau lined up with the senior team.
This rise, in such a short span of time in itself, is an achievement. But what makes it all the more striking is that when he debuted with the senior side of the Catalans last year, he had not even played a minute with Barcelona B team, which plies its trade in the Segunda B division (third division of the Spanish La Liga).
In other words, Fati made a giant leap from the Barcelona Juvenil A side (Barcelona’s Under 19 team) to the senior team, skipping an entire level on the way! Add to this the fact that in between all this, he also suffered a grave injury to his right leg, that sidelined him for almost a year, and the meteoric rise of this wonder kid becomes all the more clear.
Valverde took a risk trusting Ansu Fati, but Barcelona has become better for it. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)
When Ernesto Valverde handed a young 16-year-old his first steps in the Nou Camp, even the Barcelona faithful thought it to be a temporary fix. The team acutely lacked width and the young player from the Juvenil side fit the bill. But apart from being an academy player, he was not among the more talked about ‘next big things’ like Take Kubo or Xavi Simons. But all that changed since that night at the Nou Camp. Fati has since been breaking records left, right and centre.
The rest, as they say is history. He is barely into his first proper season as part of the senior side at Barcelona, and he is already a key element as far as the team is concerned. Under Ronald Koeman, who employs a 4-2-3-1 formation, Fati has been taking up that wide left position, alongside the likes of Lionel Messi, Philipe Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann.
It is to Fati’s credit that whenever he took to the field, Barca’s left-wing seemed more dynamic and creative as opposed to the right-wing. Needless to say, his absence following the injury that he sustained during Barcelona’s 5-2 win over Real Betis has affected Barca as Fati has been their most potent attacking threat this season.
His tally of five goals this season is only behind Messi’s six (five of which were penalties). This is not to say that Fati is on par with Messi or even close to the level of the legendary Argentine. But when a kid who is barely eighteen years old has been sparkling in a side that boasts big names like Messi, Griezman, Coutinho and Dembele, his craft and potential has to be understood and respected.
Lionel Messi and Ansu Fati have developed an understanding on the pitch, which seems to benefit Barcelona in multiple ways. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)
Having said that, what is probably as important – if not more – is taking care of this gem. His talent and potential has to be allowed to grow, yes; but Barcelona and its manager has to make sure that Fati does not burn out before hitting his peak.
It would be wise to ease the youngster slowly when he gets back from injury. For Fati has shown us enough for us to believe that this is all just a start and there is much more to come. Within a span of a year, Fati has risen from 6th position on the Golden Boy list to 2nd. With three more years left for him in the competition, he may well turn out to be the next Barcelona player to win the said award, after Lionel Messi did it in 2005.
The Copa del Rey could be Barcelona’s only saving grace this season
With the league out of sight, and the Champions League a distant dream, the Copa del Rey could be the saving grace Barcelona are looking for this season.
As much as it wrenches a Culés‘ heart to see the club they once witnessed conquer Europe with all it’s might now look like a pale shadow of its former self, it’s also vital to come to terms with the fact that Barça are still in the process of recovery, patching their wounds while attempting to rediscover its former glory.
Winning the Champions League and La Liga will invariably be the main motive at a club as big as Barcelona. Still, for once, the chances of contending with Europe’s elite seems immensely slim, especially with the continuous spells of inconsistencies the Azulgranas have endured this season.
Woefully, the club have also made it a customary practice to flounder against relatively bigger oppositions, cracking under pressure in amateur fashion. It’s safe to assume these old habits will once again die hard.
It might be a little too late to kickstart a challenge for the league, as Atletico Madrid do not appear to be showing any signs of slowing down in the league and teams like Bayern Munich and Manchester City are always major forces to reckon with in the Champions League. Not to mention, last year’s finalists – PSG – await Barça in the round of 16, who will undoubtedly be a tough nut to crack over the two legs. Having a shot against established sides in one of the club’s most vulnerable states does not seem plausible in the slightest.
However, despite the chances of winning the two big trophies looking ever so minuscule, the Copa Del Rey stands in solitude, waiting to reconcile with the team that has one way or another always found itself reclaiming this esteemed trophy as it habitually dresses in the Blaugrana colours at the end of the campaign.
Having been knocked out disgracefully in the Spanish Super Cup finals, the Copa del Rey may end up being a crucial source of silverware for the Catalan giants. The prize may not be as notable as the aforementioned competitions, yet it undeniably holds value and possesses the ability to save Barcelona’s turbulent season.
Albeit there’s no guaranteeing the road to success will be a stroll in the park for the Blaugranas, it’s apparent that the situation has been made considerably easier, as the fickle finger of fate blesses Barça’s fortunes with the shocking exits of Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.
Additionally, the fact that Sevilla square up against Valencia and Real Betis lock horns with Real Sociedad implies that two prominent teams will be forced to bid farewell to the competition in the next round, making Barça’s road to the final substantially less complicated.
While the Copa Del Rey’s primary stages are typically utilized to award youngsters and players from the B team opportunities with the first team, Ronald Koeman understandably appears to be opting for his best players in the upcoming round of 16 clash against Rayo Vallecano, who sit at 4th place in the Segunda Division.
Owing to the fact that two of Spain’s biggest teams have already departed the competition indicates that there is simply no margin for error and seeing how even the underdogs cannot be underestimated, Barca must use this as a lesson to showcase their winning mentality, even against sides from the lower divisions.
“It is an important moment of the season, we are doing well away from home. We will put up a strong line-up tomorrow. We know that the Cup is the shortest way to win something.”Ronald Koeman | Pre-game press conference
For a team that has basked in silverware and has reigned supreme on the big stage for years, it’s absolutely quintessential to get back to winning ways. After a season full of turmoil, the Copa Del Rey is the least Barça should salvage. With the context perfect for victory, the acclaimed Spanish Competition could very well be Barça’s saving grace this season, and possibly sow the seeds for success.
Of course, it is too soon to write Barça off in any competition yet, but if there’s one thing the club have proven time and time again, it is that they are still a serious work in progress. That said, the Copa Del Rey would be a respectable achievement for Barcelona during these troubling times. Although it may seem as if it is simply an acceptance of mediocrity, the cup would be a great stepping stone for the future, a chance to not only lift silverware again; but also to get into the habit of winning.