If one were to talk about turning the tables, the story of Luuk de Jong at Barcelona would be the perfect tell-tale. The Dutch striker arrived at the Catalan club amidst heavy criticism, for he was considered a player ‘not up to the standard’ of Barcelona.
Initially, his performances followed suit. The former PSV striker struggled to gel with the team and seemed isolated on the field. The few chances that fell his way did not yield any result, and soon de Jong was back on the bench.
However, the story took a steep turn for the better since Xavi’s arrival. It was initially suggested that the new manager did not have Luuk in his plans, and arrangements were made to sell the striker in January. But from that moment, the striker was reborn and delivered back-to-back game-winning performances.
On Sunday, it was once again the Dutch target man who secured a point for Xavi’s side. De Jong came onto the field in the 86th minute and scored a last gasp equaliser eight minutes later for his team. His dominance in the air could not be challenged by Espanyol as he perfectly slotted the ball into the bottom right corner.
Luuk: "I have to be ready when the team needs me, even if it's off the bench. I wanted the game to restart quickly and try to score another goal." pic.twitter.com/QGdHkoiIDk— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) February 13, 2022
The loanee’s star performance brings one question to mind – should Xavi opt for Luuk de Jong or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The latter moved to Barcelona in the winter transfer window and has made two appearances for the club since. His debut came against Atletico Madrid, but Dani Alves’ red card forced him to play a defensive game.
Against Espanyol, all eyes were on the Gabonese striker again. Though his understanding of spaces and passing was on point, he struggled to create any real threat to Diego Lopez.
Heading into the Europa League clash against Napoli, Xavi must evaluate what each striker brings to the table. Fundamentally, de Jong and Aubameyang have profiles with stark differences.
The former Sevilla man cannot make runs in between the lines or contribute to the team’s buildup. His lack of pace is another worry as it dampens the impact of potential counterattacks.
Yet, what makes de Jong so valuable is his newfound instinct in front of goal and ability to come up clutch. The Dutch striker’s profile is a perfect complement to Adama Traore on the right-wing.
On the other hand, Aubameyang does not provide as much of a threat in the air. The former Arsenal captain is one who can contribute to the buildup of play. His ability in front of the goal has never been in doubt, but his long hiatus from football is a drawback.
We will need to wait and see who Xavi will opt for, but it looks like the two players are not making things easy for him, especially considering de Jong’s recent prominence.