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Clutch Luuk de Jong comes up big again for Barcelona

The visitors show grit capturing the win at the death

Levante UD v FC Barcelona - La Liga Santander Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Even as their form dips, this Barcelona team is showing it has the character to fight until the end, and the creativity to conjure goals in a variety of ways when their back is against the wall.

Was anyone surprised when Luuk de Jong rescued points with yet another clutch goal? His reaction was so muted. Just a wry smile on his face, as if to say, no big deal this is just what I do.

The Dutchman hasn’t played many minutes the past few months, but he’s accepted his role as a super super-sub, becoming a late game scoring specialist who wins games for fun.

That’s the thing about this team. Everyone has a role. Some are bigger than others, but everyone is important. Xavi has his players buying in, and they’re contributing when their name is called.

Levante UD v FC Barcelona - La Liga Santander Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

As entertaining as it was to see this team run up the score and put away games with ease, what we’ve seen the past few weeks, finding ways to win when the momentum runs dry, is evidence of the staying power of this new system.

Pierre Emerick Aubameyang is a case in point. In the run of play recently, he’s been struggling for form, making bad touches, and not getting many chances in front of goal.

Everyone goes through periods like that, but his job on this team is to score the big goal when it matters most. That’s what he did against Levante, with a thundering header into the side netting. It was his only contribution in the game, but it was the chance he absolutely had to take to turn the game on its head. He was ready, and rose to the occasion.

Ousmane Dembele is another example. Since February, he has been given a specific role to play, and he’s been delivering world class performances in the position on a weekly basis. His assist tally is up to 11, and he’s now tied at the top of the Liga standings with Karim Benzema.

It’s also not a coincidence that, just like in Frankfurt, when the starters aren’t getting the job done, Xavi has been able to pull the right strings to get an immediate impact from his substitutions.

Levante UD v FC Barcelona - La Liga Santander Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images

I was surprised when he took Frenkie de Jong out of the game, who for my money was one of the few player early on stretching the game and creating danger. The manager was quickly validated, when once again his two subs, Pedri and Gavi, were the ones to manufacture the big goal quickly upon entry. Last time, it was different faces in Dembele and Frenkie, but the result was the same, impactful in-game management.

Barcelona is not playing their best football at the moment, but they are showing they have the winning character to never give up and find solutions before the final whistle blows.

Eric Garcia is one player who has elevated his game while the team struggles to get its form back. That’s amazing to see. Players are stepping up and taking advantage of opportunities given to them, even after receiving criticism for not living up to expectations.

That’s because this is a real team, playing within an effective system, and putting the mission above all else.

You can make mistakes and play a bad game. You can even shoot yourself in the foot three times by conceding three penalties. So long as you have teammates who will pick you up, and put those mistakes behind you quickly, as you move forward together with determination to win, no matter what it takes.

FBL-ESP-LIGA-LEVANTE-BARCELONA Photo by JOSE JORDAN/AFP via Getty Images

Xavi’s Barcelona are young and learning together week by week.

They are united and hold one another to the highest standards. But they’re also having fun. They’re enjoying their football. They’re enjoying one another.

So when times get tough, and they’re faced with adversity, as was the case several times against Levante, they trust each other and get back to work.

There is no giving up.

We’re not talking about a top four finish now. We’re talking about winning every game. That’s the mindset, and that’s why Barcelona are holding steady in second place, something inconceivable a few months ago.

And on Thursday in the Europa League, there will be a statement to make.

Because when this season is over, these Barcelona players will be lifting a trophy, no matter what it takes.