Barcelona’s UCL hopes in their own hands
Barcelona’s win over Dynamo Kiev may not have been convincing but the three points were vital and mean the club’s hopes of qualifying for the last 16 are back in their own hands.
The Catalans started brightly against Dynamo Kiev but fizzled out once again and seemed to run out of ideas in the second half when they ended up simply flinging crosses into the hosts’ penalty area.
Fortunately, a moment of magic from Ansu Fati saw Barca finally break the deadlock and secure a crucial victory that puts them above Benfica and into second place in Group E.
A win over Benfica on November 23 at Camp Nou will clinch our spot in the last 16 pic.twitter.com/CcKSYlpf3R— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) November 2, 2021
A win over the Portuguese side at the Camp Nou next time out in the Champions League will secure qualification, and will surely be needed too, as Barca’s final game of the group is against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena.
Ansu back with a bang
Match-winner Ansu Fati was back with a bang after missing Barcelona’s last two games after taking a knock to his knee against Real Madrid.
The 19-year-old was nowhere near his best but still came up with a brilliant finish to tuck away a rare chance and collect all three points.
A classy celebration aimed at Sergio Aguero followed and he also dedicated the win to the Argentine after the match. Fati only turned 19 three days ago but his humility and maturity match his talents on the pitch.
Talking of talent, Fati seems completely at home in the Champions League already.
Barcelona won’t want to be relying on Fati, given his tender years, but the kid is simply so good they may not have any choice. Simply put, keeping him fit will prove crucial to Barca’s hopes of success this season
Fati’s importance was highlighted in one scary moment when he went down and won a penalty, that was subsequently overturned by VAR, in the second half. You could almost feel feel the sighs of relief when he finally got to his feet again.
The striker’s heartfelt celebrations on the bench at the full-time whistle also spoke volumes about Fati’s passion for his club.
Barca kids hit UCL landmark
Ansu was one of three Barcelona teenagers in the starting XI, along with Nico Gonzalez and Gavi, as the Catalan giants set another landmark in Europe’s top competition. Another teenager, Alejandro Balde, also arrived off the bench late on.
3 - @FCBarcelona will be the first Spanish team to start a @ChampionsLeague match with three players under the age of 20 in their starting XI: Gavi (17 years and 89 days), Ansu Fati (19 and 2) and Nicolas Gonzalez (19 and 303). Bravery. pic.twitter.com/XtGbcqqHwq— OptaJose (@OptaJose) November 2, 2021
The teenagers were part of seven homegrown players to start the game for Barcelona with Eric Garcia, Oscar Mingueza, Sergio Busquets, and Jordi Alba also in from the start. It’s not too far from Joan Laporta’s dream of an all-La Masia team.
The kids didn’t let Barca down either. Nico continues to impress and was a little unfortunate not to score with an effort that ended up being blocked by Memphis Depay.
Gavi was employed on the right wing, with Sergino Dest dropping out late with a knock, and did a decent job, although he’s clearly more effective through the middle.
It’s looking increasingly likely that Xavi will be Barca’s next manager and the new coach has bags of talent to worth with. Nurturing the youngsters to fulfil their potential will be a priority for Xavi and is perhaps one of the reasons the club legend is now ready to come home.
Barca still struggling for goals
Fati’s stunner may have secured the victory but Barca’s lack of goals is a real worry. The Catalans have only managed two in four Champions League games and, given their ability to give up cheap goals, you feel they may need more than one to see off Benfica.
Injuries have, of course, played their part but it’s still a concern for Barcelona. The Catalans have only scored twice away from home all season in all competitions and have found the back of the net just four times in their last five games.
Fati’s goal took his tally to three for the season, two behind Barcelona’s top goalscorer Memphis Depay on five, while Sergi Roberto, Gerard Pique, and Martin Braithwaite (all injured) have two.
Dembele makes bright return
One player who offers genuine hope he can help out the Barcelona attack is Ousmane Dembele who made his long-awaited return from injury against Dynamo Kiev.
The Frenchman appeared as a second-half substitute, wearing the Barca No. 7 for the first time, and helped open up the game with his speed and willingness to run with the ball.
There’s no doubt the return of Dembele will be a huge boost for Barca, provided he can stay fit, and offer an extra dimension in attack that has been lacking.
Interim coach Sergi Barjuan was full of praise for the 24-year-old after the match and even let slip he had been sent on earlier than expected.
“We put him on earlier than we’d told him he would after so long out,” he said. “But he makes such a difference – he plays at a different tempo, he’s very direct, he stretches things.”
Barca’s frontline has really struggled so far this season, mainly because of injury, but an attacking three of Memphis Depay, Ansu Fati, and Ousmane Dembele offers plenty of promise.