The expectation Barcelona have of Ansu Fati as the club’s next superstar can be seen in the shirt number the teenager wears. Lionel Messi had barely packed up his things at the Camp Nou before Ansu was handed the legendary Argentine’s former No 10 shirt in a symbolic move designed to comfort fans about the Catalans’ current direction.
Comfort has been in short supply for a club still reeling from the exit of their best-ever player this summer. Messi was more than just a football player. He was the embodiment of Barcelona’s principles and values as a club. Messi’s separation from Barca was so painful because he was Barca.
Now, though, Ansu, as the La Masia graduate with the world at his feet, is a symbol of Barcelona’s hope for the future, and by every measure the expectation is justified. This is a player who at the age of 18 has 15 goals and six assists in 47 senior appearances for Barcelona.
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After 11 months out through injury, it took Ansu just 13 minutes to find the back of the net in his first start of the season for Barcelona on Sunday. The teenager already has a trademark finish in much the same way Messi did from a young age - a one-two finish on the edge of the box before a right-footed shot into the far corner of the net.
Of course, the one-two doesn’t work without someone to bounce a pass off and it appears Memphis Depay will be Ansu’s partner in crime this season - it was the Dutchman who set up the 18-year-old for his equaliser against Valencia. The two attackers already seem to be on the same wavelength.
This could be significant for Barcelona, and for head coach Ronald Koeman, whose team have been desperately lacking in coherence so far this season. This was exposed over the international break when Spain, who took many of their players from the Catalan club, performed better, particularly in midfield, than Barca have at any point in 2021.
Ansu and Memphis give Barcelona purpose again in the post-Messi era. There was an intensity to their play in the 58 minutes they were on the pitch together in the 3-1 win over Valencia with Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong and Gavi eager to feed the ball to one of the pair.
There remains an imbalance to Barca’s play, something that was illustrated by the sight of Sergino Dest, a full-back by trade, playing as a right forward against Valencia. Koeman needs some verticality down one of the wings and with Ansu quick to cut inside off the left he requires it on the right, where he is short of options.

Ansu Fati and Ronald Koeman during a Barcelona game against Valencia.

Image credit: Getty Images

But with Ansu and Memphis providing a hub of attacking productivity on the left, and with Jordi Alba offering width on the overlap from full-back, Barcelona have the core of a winning team again, especially if Koeman can find a way to forge an effective midfield unit out of Busquets, De Jong, Gavi and Pedri, who will return from injury soon.
Some might argue that a good run of results at this stage of the season would actually do Barcelona more harm than good in the medium to long-term. Many fans have made up their mind on Koeman and view the replacement of the Dutchman as the quickest route to recovery. Anything that prolongs this could stretch out Barca’s demise.
This week might well determine Koeman’s immediate fate. Barcelona started with a win over Valencia on Sunday, but must follow this up with good results and performances against Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League, where the Catalans face a struggle to make the last 16, and Real Madrid in El Clasico. It's entirely feasibly Koeman could be gone by next week.
Ansu is only just back from injury, but Barca need him and Memphis, and all they offer as a pair. Koeman, whose job is at risk, certainly does. The spectre of Messi still lingers at the Camp Nou, but the teenager likened to him and the Dutchman signed to replace him give Barcelona a chance.
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