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Does inexperience matter when choosing Riqui and Ansu for the Champions League?

Anurag Agate



Header Image by Photo Agency via Getty Images

The contribution of Riqui Puig and Ansu Fati to Barcelona lately has been huge, but are they ready to start in the Champions League?

Barcelona have had a below-average season by their standards so far. They have won neither of the three trophies they could have won, in the La Liga championship, the Copa del Rey and the Spanish Supercup. The only one remaining is the Champions League. The global pandemic of COVID–19 has affected every aspect of our lives and football is not an exception. The Champions League, along with many other tournaments, had been pushed back and it begins now.

For a team like Barcelona, winning the European tournament is a aim every season. With a 1–1 score against Napoli, the Italians come to the Camp Nou next. One of the decisions manager Quique Setién faces is whether or not to play Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig. The two youngsters have been among the top performers recently for the club, despite they lack experience. So what exactly are the pros and cons of selecting them? And what should he do ideally?

How do they help the system?

Let’s disregard the players’ current form for a moment. What do Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig have to offer to Barcelona regardless of their form?

Barcelona always look to sustain attacking momentum and keep possession in the opposition’s half. In such situations, something they have lacked this season especially has been a direct attacker. Lionel Messi is still an insanely good player but his blistering pace and mazy runs aren’t as predominant as earlier. Luis Suárez and Antoine Griezmann lack any of the directness Barcelona need. Ousmane Dembélé is just recovering and won’t face Napoli, making the bench in the best case. Luckily, Ansu Fati possesses the pacey dribbling, the one-on-one skills, and the ability to take the opposition head-on.

The La Masía youngster is excellent at knowing when to stretch the opposition’s defence and when to get in narrower to allow Jordi Alba to overlap. His dribbling is very dynamic and he is usually successful when he goes against an opposition defender one on one. Time and time again, bringing him on has changed Barça’s complete style of play from stagnant to bright and energetic.

With him on the left, Barcelona have always looked sharper down the left as well. The imbalance caused by the influence Messi has on the right has been seen often, but Ansu’s presence and efficiency has seen the play being distributed down both more wings more evenly.

Ansu Fati Riqui Puig Barcelona Champions League

Ansu Fati has already stood out in the big stage, while Riqui Puig is yet to debut in the Champions League | Photo by Imago

Meanwhile, since Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández’s retirements, Barcelona haven’t had any midfielder who can play those kind of balls forwards. The blaugranas have had and currently have some impressive midfielders. And though no player has come even close to what Xavi and Iniesta did in midfield, Riqui Puig has the most similarities to both those playmakers.

His vision is excellent, always enveloping the whole pitch. Along with this, his pinpoint accuracy passing is superb at picking out his teammates. Very often, he plays the type of pass which puts the forwards through on goal very easily. His passing range is impressive as well, as he is very capable as long pings and well-weighted chipped balls into the box. It’s already well-established that Riqui’s passing is wonderful. Nonetheless, he contributes to the team in many ways apart from this.

Something that Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig both do very well is linking-up with their teammates for quick one-twos. This is something that is expected of La Masía graduates. This link-up play allows for Barcelona to advance quickly and efficiently. Along with this, Puig is excellent at pressing and winning the ball back. The combination of his passing, pressing is complemented by his ability to operate in tight spaces and carry the ball forward. All these make Riqui a completely refreshing option in midfield for Barcelona.

The only drawback

These two wonderkids have a drawback which they, and many young players share. Lack of experience. Neither of them has experience in European football. This is a difficult decision for Setién. It could of course lead to them showing that they are good enough to play against top sides throughout Europe. But if they don’t perform well, the pressure at such a huge stage is enormous. If a player’s mentality isn’t strong enough, it could lead to their confidence getting a huge blow.

Pep Guardiola chose to start the young Phil Foden against Real Madrid in the Champions League: will Quique Setién do the same with young starlets Riqui Puig and Ansu Fati too? | Photo by Peter Powell / Pool /AFP via Getty Images

Even though we may think that they have that mentality, it is finally the coach who knows them best, or rather, should know best. The quality that these two possess is undeniable. Their selection however, isn’t dependent only on their quality but also on how this match could affect them. But in the end, their quality is too good to just stay on the bench and their contribution is too impressive for Quique Setién to just omit these youngsters.

What is the likely choice? What is the ideal choice?

Quique Setién has had a midfield that complements the attack. For example, Arturo Vidal often moves forward when Messi drops, so that there is never a player deficit in attack or midfield, Or when Griezmann drops back and Vidal and Frenkie de Jong move up a bit to pin the opposition’s defenders temporarily. Barcelona rely on attacking transitions and overloads a lot.

In such scenarios, Riqui Puig, playing as the left-interior midfielder would have to assist Alba and the left-winger in overloads. Notwithstanding, a system in which Puig flourished was a 4–4–2 diamond with him playing as a number 10 behind Messi and the other forward. In this case, Ansu Fati would almost definitely not make it into the starting XI.

That said, in a 4–3–3 with Fati as a left winger, Barcelona are able to stretch the opposition’s defence and sustain possession in the opposition’s half. In this formation, both Ansu and Riqui could get a chance.

Regardless, what is the most likely selection? Setién may play a 4–4–2 diamond with Messi as a number 10 and Griezmann and Suárez upfront. That prediction is from what we have seen from him against tough opposition recently and the reports that he will go for an attacking style. This could see Riqui Puig fitting in and getting a starting spot in the Champions League, but this system most probably wouldn’t be the best for Ansu Fati.

But what would be the ideal choice?

Considering the things both players bring to the table and the way Napoli play, it is clear that winning the midfield battle and having pacey attacking wingers are both important. That leads us to conclude that ideally, both players have a significant contribution to make and they should be selected in a 4–3–3. This would be an adventurous move but it would show Setién’s trust in them. And regardless of the performance, it would be a major confidence boost for them. It’s time for Barcelona to play the kind of football they want to, and factors such as experience, however important, have to be weighed against the immense talent which could be on display.

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18, living in India, obsessed with Barcelona and Spanish football. I am into football in any form: watching, playing, reading about, writing about...In particular, I'm very interested in youth football, especially La Masía. I try to learn more about the tactical side of football as well.


Lionel Messi’s love for football: Do what you love

Maha Naeem Khan



Photo by Victor Fraile/Getty Images

Continuing with the lessons Lionel Messi has taught, this one is about: Loving what you do, wholeheartedly. Lionel Messi’s love for football shows he doesn’t belong to this planet. He owns what he loves which is a lesson for success for many.

Messi is an epitome of goodness that comes out from his love and passion for the game. The skills he displays on the football field were never displayed before and as per pessimists; might never be showcased in Camp Nou again. He is an ardent performer, a mad-keen footballer, a fervid player, and a zealous sportsman.

Football is deep-rooted in Lionel Andrés Messi. Nothing stopped him from pursuing his dreams and becoming one of the greatest footballers of this era. Do you ever wonder what made him chase his passion vehemently and achieve the goals successfully? The answer to this question is Lionel Messi’s love for football. He loves what he does and owns it candidly giving an important lesson to learn!

“What I do is play soccer, which is what I like.”

– Lionel Messi

When somebody loves what they do, the results are naturally exceptional. Messi, when exhibits his talent on the football pitch, his love for the game can be felt. The way he looks at the ball before scoring a tough goal demonstrates that every ounce of energy left in him will be devoted to this kick: it shows passion, fierceness, and commitment.

Messi’s love for the club

La Pulga’s love is not limited to the game alone, it is profoundly extended to the club he plays for: FC Barcelona. This love is symbiotic. Fc Barcelona is the main character in Messi’s story. Many people believe that Barcelona is nothing without Messi and Messi will be nothing without Barcelona.

Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Lionel Messi’s love for his club and the game made him the backbone of Cules. He worked enthusiastically to polish his skills and lift his team to incomparable greatness and dominance in the footballing world. Barcelona is not just a club for him, it is the platform that brought the best out of him. It is the stage where he performs and displays his supernatural talents. Given the fact that he left his home, his friends, and his country to come to an entirely different place and for the greatest club of that time teaches us a lesson that when you love something devotedly, it will come running to you. After signing his first contract on a used napkin, Barcelona’s number ten never looked back. Over the years, he set a legacy at Camp Nou to be followed for years to come.

A love story to cherish

It is the love for the game as well as for his team that Messi fervently gave all his talents and peak years to FC Barcelona. He is one of the very few footballers who can be labeled as a one-club man. Undeniably, there’s no team in the world that doesn’t want this ‘Alien’ in their team. Various clubs tried to break this inextricable relationship of Messi with Catalans by presenting tempting offers, but love won every time as the captain never for once pay heed to the criticism for wasting his time at Camp Nou whenever the club faced tough times.

Having said this, the unmatchable Leo & Barca love story has all the basic chronicles of an intense love affair; hurt, tragedy, tears, obstacles. Recent times made this love story a bit sour though, leaving the masses to suspect a potential breakup in the coming times. Conversely, keeping in view all that Leo has given up for Barca, fans are hopeful that the club will overlook its bad decisions to create an ideal situation for their talisman to stay. Well, hope is a dangerous thing, the only option for now!

What matters the most is no matter how crucial the circumstances are, the focus of Lionel Messi remains there and is proven in the 2019/2020 season. It was the worst season for the Barcelona star so far thus, the Alien magic still managed to break a couple of records leaving the fans in awe of him! This has been made possible because a thousand words can’t describe Messi’s love and faith in what he does which is why the Spanish dictionary included a new word: “Inmessionante” which means “1. A perfect way to play football, an unlimited capacity for self-improvement. 2. Describes the best player of all time.”


Hence, Lionel Andres Messi teaches all of us another lesson; do what you love having a firm belief in what you and when the circumstances are odd, do it more passionately with some extra love and faith. The world is out there to let us down, but the faith and passion of Lionel Messi is a beam of light for dark paths when the confidence is losing and belief is shaking.

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