MADRID: Wearing the No. 10 jersey that used to belong to Lionel Messi, Ansu Fati made a triumphant return from a long injury layoff on Sunday, scoring a goal and giving Barcelona fans hope for the future.
Fati, who hadn’t played in more than 10 months because of a knee injury, scored in stoppage time to seal a 3-0 La Liga win over Levante that helped ease some of the pressure on Barcelona following a three-match winless streak.
The 18-year-old Fati was loudly cheered by the crowd at the Camp Nou Stadium when he entered the match in the 81st minute, then profusely celebrated after scoring with a low shot from outside the area.
He has been one of Barcelonas most promising stars and is seen by many as a player who can help the Catalan club overcome Messi’s painful departure to Paris St Germain.
“I’m proud to be able to wear this number after Leo did,” Fati said. “I’m thankful for the club and for the team captains to have given me this opportunity. It’s not a pressure for me. I’m just grateful for being able to wear this number that gave so much for the club.”
Memphis Depay and Luuk de Jong had each scored in the first 15 minutes of the match to put Barca on their way to their first victory since the demoralising 3-0 home loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League two weeks ago.
The team had been in turmoil since then, with coach Ronald Koeman under pressure and at odds with club president Joan Laporta and even some of his players for saying that the club would not realistically fight for titles this season.
“We are Barcelona, we will always try to win everything,” Fati said. “We will fight for the league, for the Champions League and for all the competitions we are in.”
Having been held to frustrating draws by lowly opposition in their last two league games, Barca were quick out of the blocks and went ahead after six minutes as Depay converted a penalty.
They doubled their advantage just before the quarter-hour as De Jong latched on to a Sergino Dest through ball before finishing past Aitor Fernandez in the visitors’ goal.
Levante rarely looked like troubling Ronald Koeman’s side, who are low on confidence, and they were indebted to Fernandez, who made a couple of smart stops to keep the scoreline respectable as a dominant Barca pushed on in search a third.
It finally came in the 91st minute as Fati capped his comeback appearance with a wonderful strike from distance.
The victory moved the Catalans up to sixth in the table with 12 points from six games, five behind league leaders Real Madrid, who have played one more.
Real Sociedad climbed to second, a point off the top of the table after they edged past Elche 1-0, thanks to a late goal from captain Mikel Oyarzabal.
Oyarzabal capitalised on a defensive error in the 81st minute to score his fifth goal in seven games this season and put La Real in touching distance of Real.
Colombia veteran Radamel Falcao scored his third goal in his third match since joining promoted Rayo Vallecano, helping his team beat visiting Cadiz 3-1 and sit fifth in the standings.
Seventh-placed Real Betis defeated bottom side Getafe 2-0 with Willian Jose scoring a goal in each half while Javi Martinez scored an 88th-minnute winner as Osasuna beat Mallorca 3-2 for their second win in three matches.
Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2021