Jutgla grabs his chance
Barcelona’s win over Elche saw 22-year-old Barca B striker Ferran Jutgla handed his first senior start and grab the opportunity to impress Xavi with both hands.
16 - Ferran Jutglà is the third fastest player to score on his @LaLigaEN debut for @FCBarcelona in the 21st century (16 minutes) after Sandro Ramírez in 2014 against Villarreal (12) and Eidur Gudjohnsen in August 2006 against Celta Vigo (13). Precocious.— OptaJose (@OptaJose) December 18, 2021
The attacker joined the club from Espanyol in the summer and scored in the midweek friendly with Boca which saw him selected over Luuk de Jong for the visit of Elche.
Jutgla did have the ball in the back of the net with less than two minutes on the clock, after a great finish from a lovely Gavi pass, but saw it ruled out for a very tight offside.
Yet it did not take Jutgla long to score again and this time it counted. The youngster headed home a corner at the near post to put Barca 1-0 up after 16 minutes.
There could have been more too. He forced Edgar Badia into a good save after another neat combination with Gavi and fired narrowly wide just after the hour when the scores were still 2-2.
Jutgla admitted after the match he’d been told to attack the near post by Xavi before the game and that he’s hoping for more chances. He looks almost certain to get them.
Gavi’s got the lot
There’s no doubt that it was the youngsters who once again caught the eye against Elche but it was Gavi, the youngest of the lot, who stood out the most with a display Xavi rightly described as “spectacular” after the game.
The highlight of Gavi’s performance was undoubtedly his very special first goal for the club which made it 2-0. There were even shades of Lionel Messi about the way he turned, raced clear, sat his defender down and then fired a precise shot home.
Gavi’s passionate celebration was also a joy to watch. If Barca weren’t already working overtime to secure his future on a long-term contract, they really should be now.
Gavi’s game by numbers vs. Elche:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 18, 2021
97% pass accuracy
10 duels won
6 fouls won
5 touches in opp. box
2 chances created
His first La Liga goal. pic.twitter.com/dT2fukxuct
This was a performance that had it all: determination, desire, work rate, attitude, skill, ambition, a goal, an assist, and discipline too. Another yellow card would have brought a one-match ban and ruled him out of the game against Sevilla.
There was also a telling moment after the game. Gavi was captured walking back to the dressing room with Ronald Araujo behind him. “He’s a machine,” says Araujo to the camera about Gavi with a big grin on his face. He’s not wrong.
Can Barca build on Elche win?
Barcelona’s win was more complicated than it needed to be but did yield an important three points that should provide a morale boost. The team’s fragility was on show again, particularly when Elche scored twice in 94 seconds to level, but the ability to respond and find a winner was important.
The big question now is whether Xavi and his players can build on the victory and finish the year in style in their final game against Sevilla. Julen Lopetegui’s side are flying high in second place and are fresh from a win over Atletico which actually may help Barca.
Three points at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium would take Barca above Atletico in the table and level on points with Rayo Vallecano in fourth place. After the chaos of the last few months that would not be the worst place to end the year.
Ter Stegen really shouldn’t be untouchable
There were still plenty of negatives from Saturday’s match, particularly defensively where Barca were once again poor and continue to be a real soft touch at the back.
Goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen isn’t solely to blame but you got the feeling he should have done better with both goals. Xavi heavily backed the German before the match, while there were also reports he’s been told he’s ‘untouchable.’
And that might be one of the problems with Ter Stegen. Barca have Neto, Inaki Pena, and Arnau Tenas around but there’s simply no pressure on the German for his place, nothing to keep him on his toes. And it shows.
Indeed it’s even been rumored Pena will leave in January in search of regular football and you can hardly blame him. The goalkeeper turns 23 in March and his career is going nowhere at the moment at the Camp Nou.
Is Frenkie heading to the bench?
Another player who used to be untouchable but clearly isn’t is midfielder Frenkie de Jong. The Dutchman was surprisingly taken off in the second half against Elche, although Xavi didn play his substitution down after the match and said it was because he needed a rest.
Even so, you do wonder what the future holds for Frenkie at Barcelona. The emergence of Gavi and Nico Gonzalez has increased competition for places in midfield which will become even more intense with Pedri due back in January.
Sergio Busquets remains the captain and is unlikely to drop out, Gavi has made himself all but undroppable at the moment, and you get the feeling that Pedri will go straight back into the team when he’s fit.
There’s already been plenty of speculation about De Jong’s future, and you can probably expect even more now, but it will certainly be interesting to see what the rest of the season holds for the Dutchman under Xavi.