Ansu Fati

Ansu Fati carries the Barcelona torch in first start for nearly a year

Max Parsons
Ansu Fati wheels away in celebration
Ansu Fati wheels away in celebration / Alex Caparros/GettyImages
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November 7 2020: the date of Ansu Fati's last start in a Barcelona shirt, until Sunday night.

The prodigal talent finally returned to the Bluagrana starting lineup as Barcelona hosted Valencia in a monumental La Liga clash at Camp Nou.

In a week that would see Ronald Koeman's side face a heavily weighted Champions League clash with Dynamo Kiev before hosting a mammoth El Clasico, their fixture against Los Che would inevitably prove vital.

Ansu Fati
Ansu Fati shone for Barcelona / Quality Sport Images/GettyImages

Those in red and blue would have to step up. And they did - particularly young Fati, whose talismanic presence inspired Barca to a comeback win sealed in the first half.

The Camp Nou crowd, courtesy of a relaxation in restrictions, was allowed to be at full capacity for the first time on over 18 months - although you'd have thought differently with a turnout of just 47,317.

In what would prove to be a subdued atmosphere, Fati provided the electricity that raised the metaphorical Camp Nou roof.

Following Jose Gaya's spectacular long-range half volley to break the deadlock within five minutes, a strong-hearted and resilient response was needed. It was a combination of Fati's fearlessness, persistence and eventual quality that gave La Blaugrana the equaliser.

Despite failing to execute the majority of what he attempted in the early stages, his unbreakable spirit shone through for the equaliser on 14 minutes.

Receiving the ball from fellow youngster Gavi, Fati linked up with Memphis Depay beautifully from the left-wing, playing a swift one-two that would tee him up on the edge of the area. A stunningly precise curled effort would soon nestle gorgeously in Jasper Cillessen's bottom corner.

In the words of La Liga TV pundit Graham Hunter, it was a '(Lionel) Messi finish, only on his right foot'. Entirely suitable for the 18-year-old that deservedly inherited the Argentine great's number 10 shirt following his infamous departure.

The youngster's imaginative and untraceable movement throughout the first period caused havoc among the Valencia back line. He eventually made it count, again.

With five minutes of the half remaining, Fati had somehow cleverly ghosted in behind the back line into a position between the goalposts, before being found by a Jordi Alba pass. Just about to pull the trigger yards away from goal, the Spaniard was hacked down from behind by opposition skipper Gaya to earn his side a spot kick.

Fati's elusive movement and sublime positional awareness had won Barcelona a penalty, which was subsequently coolly and emphatically dispatched by Memphis Depay.

Fati would eventually be replaced, through precaution, by Philippe Coutinho on the hour mark - the Brazilian notched Barcelona's third to seal the 3-1 victory, although the headlines firmly belong to the heir to Messi's jersey.

It's been a calamitous start to the 2021/22 campaign for Koeman's side but, on his first start for nearly a year, Fati injected the sort of buzz that lit up a whole XI. From what had previously looked like a necropolis at Camp Nou, there were at last little glimpses of the old Barcelona.

There was imagination, there was a spark and there was actual belief - which says a lot considering that most of the hosts' attacking play went through the 18-year-old.

Despite the acquisition of Depay in the summer, Sunday night's well-deserved victory over Valencia demonstrates that young Fati is certainly the one carrying the torch for Barcelona.

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