Barcelona did not sign a striker in January, but perhaps Ansu Fati can make up for Luis Suarez’s absence.
Antoine Griezmann said he can do it. Quique Setien thinks Ousmane Dembele can do it. But is Ansu Fati best placed to fill in for Luis Suarez at Barcelona?
The 17-year-old was one of Ernesto Valverde’s final plus points for the club, the former head coach handing a chance to the youngster that has allowed him to go from La Masia hopeful to Lionel Messi strike-partner in a matter of months.
With Suarez not expected to return until the season is pretty much over, Barca was expected to sign a forward in the transfer window. The fact that it didn’t is something the board will have to explain, but another time. Sunday’s win over Levante was all about Ansu.
Griezmann might have been deployed as the centre-forward, but Fati was the most threatening player on the pitch. Records tend to fall every few weeks in this player’s life: Barca’s second-youngest LaLiga player, youngest league goal-scorer, youngest Champions League player, youngest Champions League goal-scorer, and youngest to score and assist in the same LaLiga match.
Now, he has another: at 17 years and 94 days old, he is the youngest player to score two goals in a single LaLiga match in the competition’s history. More importantly for Barca, this was no fun-filled cameo with the team cruising to victory – this was a match-winning performance, a double to secure a 2-1 win that could have been more comfortable had others shown Fati’s clinical touch.
Only Messi managed more shots (10) and more efforts on target (six) than Fati (five and two). Barca’s captain was also the only player to better Fati for chances created (seven, compared to three). It should come as no surprise that Messi set up both goals, the first with a particularly sumptuous throughball.
Perhaps more impressively, no Barca player made more tackles than Fati (four), with Gerard Pique closest on two. That paints a picture of an attacking player not afraid to shirk responsibilities when it comes to pressing defenders and helping Barca sustain pressure in the opposition half.
Of course, no amount of hard work from a forward will excuse a failure to stick the ball between the white posts, but that is a quality Fati has never lacked. His first goal showcased his lightning pace but also a surprising level of strength, as he shoved away his marker before composedly slotting beneath goalkeeper Aitor Fernandez with his right foot. His second underlined what makes him such a threat: unpredictability. Messi played the ball into feet this time, and Fati shifted to his left before drilling in a low shot through Aitor, who could have done better.
The ability to score with either foot with ease keeps defenders wary and makes it significantly harder for opposition teams to prepare containment plans. A determined work ethic lets centre-backs know they will never be given a moment’s peace when this forward is on the pitch. A good understanding with Messi is a pretty useful bonus.
Suarez has all these qualities; it seems Fati does, too. Maybe Barca didn’t need a new striker after all.