Barcelona’s Ansu Fati made the perfect return after 10 months out through injury by scoring in a 3-0 victory over Levante yesterday, a result that eases the pressure on coach Ronald Koeman.
Fati, wearing the number 10 shirt previously belonging to Lionel Messi, came on to a raucous reception at Camp Nou, 323 days after his last appearance in November last year. And the 18-year-old came back in style, carrying the ball forward and lashing it into the net in injury time to complete a much-needed victory for Barca.
Fati was hoisted into the air by his teammates and then he climbed into the crowd behind the substitutes 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 this, and the fans who have been unbelievable,” said Fati afterwards.
After needing three operations on a knee injury, many wondered if Fati would ever get back to the levels he showed so spectacularly when he first broke into the first team in 2019. There is still a long way to go for the teenager but his return, and a brilliant goal, raised the roof at Camp Nou and lifted spirits after a turbulent few weeks consumed by speculation about Koeman’s future.
Koeman may not be saved by this result — the club could look to make a change during the upcoming international break — but there was at least renewed positivity inside the stadium, even before Fati’s dramatic intervention. Barcelona’s first win in four games moves them up to fifth in La Liga, five points behind Real Madrid with a game in hand. They play Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano next weekend.
Memphis Depay had given them an early lead with a penalty and Luuk de Jong made it two by scoring his first goal for the club since joining from Sevilla on the last day of the transfer window. But the real excitement centred around the 17-year-old Gavi and 19-year-old Nico Gonzalez, both academy graduates, who delivered displays to suggest Barca’s youngsters could yet be the faces of the new era.
Depay earned the penalty he scored in the fifth minute when he skipped past and the tripped over the dangling leg of Nemanja Radoja before converting to give Barca the perfect start. De Jong’s second was instigated by Depay as well as he released Sergino Dest down the left, who cut inside and curved a pass into the striker, who took the ball on and fired in.
Barca should have extended their lead before half-time. Gerard Pique somehow poked wide from a yard out before Gavi’s superb through ball sent Depay clear but he left himself too much to do from the angle.
Gavi then tried and failed to lob Aitor Fernandez.
Levante were generous opponents, allowing Barcelona space to dictate through midfield while never really threatening a comeback. Nico lashed wide from the edge of the box and Depay was denied again from the angle before substitute Riqui Puig almost completed a weaving run but overran his final touch.
Puig, a popular graduate of Barca’s La Masia academy, had enjoyed an enthusiastic reception from the home fans but it was nothing compared to Fati’s welcome, the teenager unable to hold back a grin as he heard the cheers.
The grin soon grew wider, a winding run through midfield accompanied by the perfect finish, a low shot into the corner.
La Liga results
Real Mallorca 2 (Rodriguez 11, Nino 45+4) Osasuna 3 (Angel 9, Inigo Perez 58, Martinez 88); Barcelona 3 (Depay 7-pen, L. de Jong 14, Fati 90+1) Levante 0
Playing today: Celta Vigo v Granada (1900)
Played Saturday: Alaves 1 (Laguardia 4) Atletico Madrid 0; Valencia 1 (Andre 90+5) Athletic Bilbao 1 (Martinez Berridi 69); Sevilla 2 (En-Nesyri 13, Mir 87) Espanyol 0; Real Madrid 0 Villarreal 0
Celtic frustrations mount after Dundee draw
Celtic were booed off after a 1-1 draw against Dundee United extended their troubled start to the Scottish Premiership season yesterday. Ange Postecoglou’s side took the lead through Liel Abada’s goal at Parkhead, but Ian Harkes equalised immediately afterwards.
With Celtic unable to mount a coherent response, Albian Ajeti produced a strong contender for miss of the season when he blazed over from two yards. That left the Hoops forced to settle for a result that leaves them languishing in sixth place in the table. Celtic are already six points behind leaders Rangers as they try to regain the title from their bitter Glasgow rivals. The hosts took the lead in the 16th minute when Abada got in front of his marker to head home Jota’s cross from six yards.
But United levelled when Ilmari Niskanen emerged with the ball on the left wing following Anthony Ralston’s sliding challenge and whipped in a cross which Harkes headed into the corner of the net from six yards. Celtic should have hit back instantly from the same source as their opener.
Abada brought down Jota’s far-post cross and squared for Ajeti but the striker blazed over from two yards right in the middle of the posts. David Turnbull almost lifted an audibly frustrated home support in the final minute of the half when he turned and unleashed a powerful left-footed strike from 25 yards that hit the underside of the bar.
Jota volleyed just over under pressure and Tom Rogic headed against the bar from eight yards. Louis Appere forced a good stop from Joe Hart as United threatened a late winner before Jota hit a looping strike off the bar before the full-time whistle sparked jeers around the stadium. In yesterday’s other matches, Hibernian climbed to second place after Martin Boyle’s 61st minute penalty secured 1-0 win against St Johnstone, while St Mirren beat Aberdeen 3-2.
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