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Why teen Ansu Fati has Barcelona dreaming again after scoring in his long-awaited return

Sporting News logo Sporting News 9/26/2021 Goal

Ansu Fati has Barcelona faithful believing again after scoring for the club in his first game back in more than 10 months. The 18-year-old rounded out the result with the final goal as his side beat Levante 3-0 in La Liga action on Sunday.

Fati had been out of action since last November, returning from a torn meniscus on his left knee in a clash with Real Betis.

And it was obvious just how much his return meant to the club as the Camp Nou gave him a standing ovation when he replaced striker Luuk de Jong with less than 10 minutes remaining:

Fati didn't waste any time repaying the love shown to him. A pass from center back Eric Garcia made its way towards Fati via a dummy from Memphis Depay. The Levante defense failed to react to the danger, and the Barca youth academy product took possession in the middle of the visitors' half and charged towards goal.

Despite full-back Jorge Miramon's attempt to block his path, Fati created space with a quick change of direction and sent the ball bouncing beyond goalkeeper Aitor with a searing strike from outside the box. The goal (video cued up below) put the game out of reach at 3-0, following first-half strikes from Depay and De Jong. And defender Ronaldo Araujo hoisted Fati high up in celebration, as if he were the savior the players had been waiting for after their recent stretch of difficult results.

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"I did not imagine a return like this," he told Movistar following the match. "Here you always have to win. I am happy for the victory, we have a lot left. I thank the doctors and physios who have been with me. Also, the fans.

"I have thought about helping the team. I have also thought about my family, who have suffered these months. Also for the people of the club. They have been a great support for me in all these months."

Fati made a beeline to the bench to celebrate with the team doctor after scoring, recognition for his help during the long 10-month road to recovery. 

"[The celebration] just happened," Fati said. "The doctor was with me all these months and I promised to celebrate with my father and brother, but because of COVID protocols I couldn't get up there [to them]. I'm happy that it was all improvised, including the celebration with the doctor."

Much has been made about the lack of star signings and fresh acquisitions due to years of financial mismanagement which has left FC Barcelona cash-strapped for the near future. The situation prevented the club for retaining club icon Lionel Messi, and it also resulted in outgoing player transfers and salary cuts for other squad members. 

Given the state of the club, this year Barcelona will be depending on a host of graduates from its world-renowned La Masia youth academy, including the brightest of them all in Fati. The teenagers will earn plenty of precious experience during a season that sees Dutch duo Depay and De Jong and oft-injured 33-year-old Sergio Aguero as the club's most high-profile stars. The team is also eagerly awaiting the return to health of 24-year-old Ousmane Dembele.

But it was Fati who inherited the No. 10 jersey worn for many seasons by Messi. The club is counting on him to follow in Messi's footsteps as the next homegrown superstar and the comparisons will be inevitable.

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"For me the No. 10 is not a source of pressure, it is a source of pride. I thank the club and the captains for giving me the opportunity to wear it. It is not pressure, but gratitude," Fati said. "I will have to earn the minutes. This is very long, it has just begun. We are Barca and we have to fight for everything.

"We are going to fight for La Liga, for the Champions League and for everything. We have to fight and work for that."

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The 3-0 victory and Fati's return to the field should give Barcelona a spring in its step ahead of upcoming matchups as the club seeks to remain in the La Liga title race and the battle to advance from its UEFA Champions League group.

The Blaugrana currently sit in fifth place in La Liga, five points behind leaders Real Madrid, but Barcelona still has a game in hand. Its next league match is a big one against defending champions Atletico Madrid on Saturday. A victory in that showdown would provide a real boost to its hopes and send a message to the rest of the league that Barcelona can still contend.

But first comes its second UEFA Champions League group stage match against Benfica on Wednesday. A result in Portugal would be massive since the Benfica is realistically the biggest threat to beat out Barca for second place and a berth in the knockout rounds alongside clear group favorites Bayern Munich. The German club looks unstoppable after crushing Barcelona 3-0 in the first match at the Camp Nou.

Fati is clearly expected to be an important building block for the club's future success this season and in the years to come. In fact, the Blaugrana hope to lock him up to a long-term contract, according to reports.

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