Ansu Fati has been given the green light to return to training after being out three months with a hamstring injury, and Barcelona fans will be asking themselves what they did to deserve so much happiness.
If things go according to plan, we could reportedly see him back in action as soon as April 10th against Levante.
Just in time to chase a Europa League trophy, and apply proper pressure on Real Madrid at the top of the league table.
This will be the third time this season that Ansu has returned from injury, but the first time he’s joining a team that’s enjoying its football. The clouds have parted, and we’re not looking for a hero anymore.
That could work to his and the club’s benefit, as Xavi will be prudent in how he uses his most promising attacking talent, taking no risks in case of another injury relapse.
Still the circumstances are intriguing with so many questions surrounding the club going into the summer.
One of the biggest influences on the Barcelona turnaround has been Ousmane Dembele, but with his future at the club in doubt, Xavi will already be thinking of solutions for how to replace such an important part of his current system.
Ansu Fati is the obvious choice. Unless there’s a big summer surprise, next season you’re likely to see him joined by Ferran Torres and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as the starting forwards.
If everyone is healthy, that is a strong attacking threat.
But swapping in Ansu for Dembele is far from a like for like change. It would require moving Ferran to the right, his preferred position as it turns out, and giving Ansu the spot on the left.
It would also completely change the style of play, as Dembele and Adama Traore are the only wingers, save for maybe Ez Abde, who provide a vertical threat. The success over the past few months has really started and ended with having wingers who can play high and wide, and take defenders on in isolation.
Let’s assume that Adama and Dembele’s Blaugrana futures are coming to a close, although that’s far from a guarantee, and I for one hope that Joan Laporta makes an effort to keep the band together for another go around.
If that’s the case, the return of Ansu Fati in April will give Xavi a chance to look to the future. What’s working now, will not work the same way with new personnel.
With Ansu in the lineup instead of Dembele, you’re getting a natural goalscorer, but giving up a creator who manufactures opportunities.
That will put more pressure on the likes of Pedri, Frenkie, and Gavi to be playmakers in the midfield, and it will take pressure off them to make runs forward and contribute inside the box.
You can still play with a 4-3-3. In the best-case scenario, it’s a dominant possession-based system, resembling Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City and his Barcelona of old.
In the worst-case scenario, the team loses that forward thinking, direct mindset that fast wingers engender. In that scenario, the team resorts to more of a side-to-side and backwards, possession without as much penetration on the ball. Think of the current Spanish national team under Luis Enrique. In my opinion, kind of boring and uninspiring, but it can still be effective.
The good news about Xavi is that he is intense and demanding. That leads me to believe, that like Guardiola, he’ll find a way to motivate his team to have a winning mindset, and won’t tolerate complacency or playing it safe.
But you still have to concede that with the players Barcelona are likely to lose, and with the return of Ansu Fati, the team will have to continue to adapt, and find new solutions that play to the strengths of the new players you are calling on.
Ansu Fati is just 19 years old, and as devastating as the last year has been for him, he has all the time he needs to learn his adult body, and work with the new and improved medical staff at Barcelona, to develop into one of the next generation of footballing superstars the world expects him to be.
For the cynics out there that need a reminder, recall this picture that is worth a million words. When you think of the future of Barcelona, you can’t do it without seeing Ansu Fati.
During some of the darkest years in recent Blaugrana history, Ansu has been one of the brightest lights showing a way forward.
It will be exciting to see what he and Xavi can do together.
Imagine what this squad can accomplish over the next decade when you throw in the likes of Pedri, Gavi, and Ronald Araujo.
This time, let’s hope this is the real Ansu comeback free of setbacks.
The good times are rolling again at the Camp Nou, and the party isn’t stopping any time soon.