This is what we paid the money to Ajax for.
Frenkie de Jong is finally building up a head of steam at Barcelona after being freed from a more defensive midfield sentry by Ronald Koeman.
It’s taken time for the Dutchman to accept that his young countryman can establish himself far better in a more attacking role, and it’s certainly beginning to pay dividends.
Whether scoring or assisting, as he did against Elche, or just running things centrally, as he has done in a number of matches this season, De Jong is fast becoming the go-to guy in the team.
His finish from the goal line was a little cheeky, however, what the 39th-minute strike did evidence was his willingness to get forward at every opportunity.
5 - @DeJongFrenkie21 has scored more goals for @FCBarcelona in one season & a half in #LaLiga (five goals) than in his five campaign for @AFCAjax in Eredivisie (four). Brewing#ElcheBarcelona #ElcheBarça pic.twitter.com/OG4H5WFCUH— OptaJose (@OptaJose) January 24, 2021
Importantly, his runs are considered and well-timed. Watch the footage from any one of the last few games back. Only if there’s a genuine chance of getting in amongst it, is Frenkie at the coal face. His late arrivals in particular are causing opponents real problems at present.
Playing with such freedom and dynamism is a joy to watch, and it’s the small tweaks to certain aspects of his game that speak of a developing footballing intelligence which is often missed in post-game conversation.
As Messi seeks to negate having two or sometimes three players around him at any one time, De Jong’s purposeful runs into the box have become a vital penalty area disruption. Without Leo on the pitch against Elche, they were even more important, dragging defenders with him as he did so.
His assist was sublime too. How many times do we see players in similar positions who just want to get the ball in the box at any cost, without really paying attention to where it lands. Hit and hope if you prefer.
Frenkie got himself into position before giving himself a split second to assess the situation and deliver the perfect ball for Riqui to put the game to bed. Game, set and match.
Unless Barca happen to be decimated by injuries between now and the end of the campaign, Koeman has to see the merits of keeping De Jong in the role which he also plays so well for the Dutch national team.
Alongside the likes of Messi and Marc-Andre ter Stegen, this midfield diamond of a player has to be one of the first names on the team sheet now.