Anssumane “Ansu” Fati Vieira. A kid, a talent that has been mesmerising the world stage for a year now. A prodigy that has been making wonders since the day Ernesto Valverde decided to put a little faith in him. As the games go by, so does the youngster’s destiny as the future big thing in the worldwide stage. But considering the needs Barça have at the moment, should Ansu Fati keep flying the left wing or centralise his influence to be a number 9?
Who would have known that Ernesto Valverde would have ended up gifting Barcelona of such a diamond? Probably, nobody. But the reality has been giving Barça fans at least a hope in the last desperate times. And this hope has a name and a surname: Ansu Fati.
The young Spanish international, born in Guinea-Bissau, has recently broken yet another record, that of the youngest player to ever score with La Roja‘s senior national team. He seems to continue his year-lasting development towards football’s elite. But as the raw material in him is still very much vivid and editable, it is rational keep asking ourselves which position would better suit him.
As in even earlier stages of his academy journey, Ansu Fati has always been synonymous with class. Precocious for his age, he has always shown that kind of talent that you don’t see often. Even comparing him with La Masía’s standards. And that alone should mean something by itself.
Often used as a striker in his youth career, as a number 9, Ansu Fati was able to net lots of goals without decreasing his centre of attraction and creative way of playing. Intelligent and decisive with the ball, rational off the ball with those wider movements and inner diagonals behind the opponent’s defensive line. A pure talent.
In his first year as a professional, Ansu Fati has been breaking records and barriers at breakneck speed | Photo by Pau Barrena / AFP via Getty Images
With the 2019/2020 season opening, culés seemed more desperate than ever, seeing their captain Lionel Messi and the club’s third top goalscorer in their history, Luis Suárez, injured. Hopeless until this kid showed up. A kid who brought not only excitement to the blaugrana environment, but also fresh legs and light attitude to a very stressed dressing room. His involvement to the big boys table could not have been quicker: cross, imposing header and goal. That was his welcome to La Liga: a star was born.
But as both Valverde and Quique Setién gave him the chances to shine, Barcelona fans who do not have a clue about what he has achieved and done with the youth sides could not forecast the thought of Ansu Fati being used as a pure striker. Why would such a talented winger have to limit his influence zone by occupying a central, dense position?
During the previous season, the Spanish wonderkid has been constantly showcasing his talent under one and only one role: the left-winger one. Whatever the other offensive line-up was compromised of, Ansu Fati’s position has always been that on the circumstances he played. And that position has also been the one that made all the Barcelona fans fall in love with him.
If it already wasn’t for his skilful abilities, his technical likeness to a former Brazilian player that walked through the Camp Nou recently was evident: Neymar Júnior seemed to be back at Barça, or at least a younger, cheaper, but not less qualitative version of him. Everything should be put into context though, but his movements and feints really remembered all culés nostalgic moments.
Ansu’s involvement with the Catalan team has increasingly been more influential during the year, yet still not at the level a guy with his talent should aspire to. Now, with the spectacular performance he delivered with Spain, the whole world, let alone around the Camp Noup stands, awaits for his brilliance to be brought upon Barcelona. But with new coach Ronald Koeman having numerous choices to pick from, where will really Ansu Fati feature from?
His finishing skills have never been doubted at youth level and with time they are most likely to get turned over to the first team, but should scoring goals be his main objective? Not at all. You see, as much as scoring is a fundamental part of the game, every player in the pitch should be cohesively working towards a collective goal. It will not be an individual to score more or less goals for Barça, but the group effort. And so, Ansu Fati should focus on refining his sparkles.
In his first start with Spain against Ukraine, Ansu Fati started as a left winger and ended as the 9 | Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno via Getty Images
As shown for Spain, his main danger zone is an evolution of a series of steps into a predetermined path. Receiving the ball out wide, it is a continuous pursuit to the opponent’s defensive movements and, eventually, tackle. That is when his ability with the ball makes him deadly on the first change of direction and first touch acceleration. Finally, the proficiency from just outside the penalty box, as much as inside of it, is what makes his supporters think about an Ansu Fati closer to the box.
Yet finishing is something that eventually will come with experience, no matter whether you find yourself twenty meters from the goal or five meters from it. Finishing is experience, before anything else.
But Barça’s rebuilding should come with a plan. And a rebuild, as much as a long-term project, goes through a developing phase. Ansu Fati ha proven to be the perfect winger in Barça’s tactical system. And with Antoine Griezmann being promised a prominent role in Koeman’s plans, it is the right excuse to keep him down that left side, going into the pitch and mesmerising opponents.
Obviously Barça’s needs and the players’ wishes are most of the times very different things from each other, but in this case, the club has found both a gem and a need at the same time. Why waste it in searching for something that will come either way with time?
Ansu Fati will score lots of goals for Barça. There is no doubts about that. He already scored his debut goal even before the great Messi had done at his age, and we all know how well that has proved to be for the Argentinian. And just as Ansu, even Messi was a winger. You do the math.
Ousmane Dembélé: Is the serious business finally about to start?
After three long campaigns plagued by injury, many hope that Ousmane Dembélé can overcome these issues in the 2020/21 season. The young Frenchman has exceptional talent and, on his day, can change the outcome of the match at any moment.
As the second most expensive player in the club’s history, Ousmane Dembélé has not lived up to his price tag yet. Having missed the majority of matches at Barcelona due to injury, it has been a frustrating time for both the player and culés.
There is no doubting the winger’s talents, but Ousmane Dembélé must prove his worth in this upcoming 2020/21 season. He has the potential to be one of the world’s best if he can stay injury-free, but will he achieve it? When he has managed to stay fit, Dembélé has been one of the most decisive players at the club, but many conditions have to be met for that to happen.
The injury problems
It is almost impossible to discuss Dembélé’s time at the Camp Nou without mentioning his injury problems. Before joining Barcelona, the pacey winger was only injured for a total of 10 days during his time at Borussia Dortmund. Then, with his move to the Spanish giants, injuries have stacked up.
According to Transfermarket, Ousmane has missed a total of 80 games due to injuries since joining in the summer of 2017. In terms of days out injured, this amounts to 512 days unavailable in just three terms. Although injuries are common in football, it is the frequency and length of Dembélé’s that are the issue. At the most important times of the season, the club has not been able to rely on him.
Questions should be asked on why the injuries started mounting up when he arrived in Barcelona. It is the same recurring injuries that are affecting the former Rennes youngster. The predominant ones are involving his hamstring and muscles. These can be serious and, without the proper treatment and recovery, can haunt a player through his full career regardless of the talent that once mesmerised the world and terrorised the opposing defences.
What Dembélé can offer
Though these injuries have been a cause of much frustration, there have been enough flashes of brilliance to convince the club to keep their faith in him. When the 23-year-old has managed to have a consistent run in the team his form continues to grow. The fake shot king can be one of the most exciting players to watch at his best. His incredible pace and dribbling can be a real asset to Barça in unlocking tight defences.
Dembélé has scored some incredible goals at the club already. His goals in the Champions League against Tottenham and his thunderbolt winner against Sevilla in the 2018 Spanish Super Cup are real standouts. Being just as strong with his left foot as his right, this allows him to play on the left or right wing effectively. By April 2019 he had achieved the incredible record of having 14 goals and 14 assists with both his right foot and left foot.
So far, the Frenchman has played a total of 74 games for Barcelona, scoring 19 and assisting 16 times. It shows that he can create and score goals. Thus, ahead of the 2020/21 season, Ousmane Dembélé could be an important player for the team if he can stay fit. He could be key in taking some of the pressure from Lionel Messi in terms of having to create and score the goals for Barça.
With the likes of Ansu Fati, Francisco Trincão, Antoine Griezmann and Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembélé will face tough competition this year | Photo by David Ramos via Getty Images
When watching Dembélé play for the Catalan side there are several impressive attributes that also stand out, apart from his pace and dribbling. One of these is his ability to drag in two or three defenders to try and contain him. This creates a lot more space for others to exploit, especially Messi. Barça have particularly struggled against teams that play a low block and Dembélé could be the player to help break these defences.
Another attribute he posses is a good connection with Messi. When Barça’s number 11 is on form, he connects well with the Argentinian. They have a good understanding of each other’s game. With Luis Suárez‘s departure from the Camp Nou, Messi will be looking for others to connect with in attack. Both are creative and can pick out difficult passes.
The 2020/21 season, already his fourth at the club, will be the most important in the Barcelona career of the still young Ousmane Dembélé. If another long-term injury strikes, then it is likely patience will run out with him. He can make basic mistakes such as misplacing simple passes, being out of position and lacking composure in front of goals. He does return from injuries rusty and the ball bounces off him or his control lets him down at times.
But the potential the winger has when he plays is endless. Dembélé is a special player and could be a generational talent if able to play regularly. If he can stay injury-free, he could be the second most important player at the club, after Messi. One of the most enjoyable players to watch on his day, Dembélé needs to perform this season and fulfil his potential.