After nearly 10 months of injury, Barcelona’s Ansu Fati made a memorable return as he lifted the struggling Barcelona side with a goal in a 3-0 win over Levante on Sunday.
Fati, who was formerly owned by Lionel Messi’s No. 10 jersey, attended a raucous reception at the Camp Nou, 323 days after his last appearance in November last year.
The 18-year-old returned in style, carried the ball forward and hit the net in injury time to complete a much-needed Barcelona win.
Fati was lifted into the air by his teammates and then climbed into the crowd behind the bench, to embrace members of his family and the club’s medical staff.
“I want to say thank you to the doctors and everyone who has been with me through all of this, and to the fans who have been incredible,” Fati said afterwards.
Having required three surgeries for a knee injury, many have wondered if Fati will return to the levels he so amazingly demonstrated when he broke into the first team for the first time in 2019.
There is still a long way to go for the teenager, but his return, and the impressive goal, raised the roof of the Camp Nou and boosted morale after a turbulent few weeks consumed by speculation about Koeman’s future.
“You saw the reaction on the field – we know he’s a very good player,” said Koeman’s assistant Alfred Schroeder, who took on media assignments with Koeman being suspended on the touchline.
“The goal wasn’t even an opportunity. He created him from nothing. That’s the individual advantage he has and that’s what we need.”
Koeman may not be saved with this result – the club can look to make a change during the upcoming international window – but there was at least a renewed positivity on the pitch, even before Fati’s dramatic intervention.
Barcelona’s first win in four matches lifted it to fifth place in the Spanish League, five points behind Real Madrid, with a postponed match. She will play Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano next weekend.
Memphis Depay gave Barcelona an early lead with a penalty and Luke de Jong made the second goal by scoring his first goal for the club since joining from Seville on the last day of the transfer window.
But the real excitement centered around 17-year-old Gavi and 19-year-old Nico Gonzalez, both academy graduates, who put on performances suggesting that Barcelona’s youth could be the faces of the new age.
Depay earned his penalty in the fifth minute when he ran past Nemanja Raduga’s dangling leg before turning around to give Barcelona a perfect start.
De Jong II was instigated by Depay and also released Sergino Dest down the left, who cut the ball inward and curled into the striker, who caught the ball and shot it inside.
Barcelona should have extended its lead before the end of the first half.
Gerard Pique somehow rushed off the field before Gavi’s superb through ball pass sent Depay away, but left himself plenty to do from the corner. Then Gavi tried and failed to attack Aitor Fernandez.
Levante were a gracious opponent, allowing Barcelona space to dictate through midfield while not really threatening to come back.
Nico moved in from the edge of the penalty area and Depay was blocked again from the corner before substitute Riqui Puig completed a weave but passed the finishing touch.
Puig, a famous alumnus of Barcelona’s La Masia academy, received an enthusiastic reception from home fans, but it was nothing compared to Fati’s, as the teenager couldn’t help but smile when he heard the cheers.
The smile quickly grew wider, and a zigzag ran across the midfield accompanied by a perfect finishing, low shot into the corner.
Real Sociedad climbed to second place, one point above the table after beating Elche 1-0 thanks to a late goal from captain Mikel Oyarzabal.
Oyarzabal took advantage of a defensive error in the 81st minute to score his fifth goal in seven games this season and put La Real within reach of Real Madrid.