Ansu Fati came to the rescue once more on Sunday, scoring a spectacular goal and earning a penalty in Barcelona’s 3-1 triumph over Valencia, kicking off a crucial week with a win.
Memphis Depay converted the penalty, and Philippe Coutinho, who replaced Fati on the hour, added a late third to give Valencia a comfortable lead in a game they had led after only five minutes.
With Valencia still hunting an equalizer, Ansu was substituted, indicating how crucial he is to Ronald Koeman in Wednesday’s Champions League match against Dynamo Kiev, with the season’s first Clasico against Real Madrid coming four days later.
Barca are bottom of the group after losing their opening two games against Bayern Munich and Benfica, making a win over Kiev all-but necessary.
Madrid, meanwhile, is still two points behind Barcelona in La Liga, but they have a game in hand, and another huge loss following Atletico Madrid’s sloppy defeat before the international break might jeopardize Koeman’s job.
They have hope in Ansu, the 18-year-old who wears the number 10 shirt once worn by Lionel Messi and is now the icon of the club’s ‘Dream Teen’ campaign, and optimism for an exciting future.
There were some short-term bonuses as well, with Sergio Aguero making his Barcelona debut four months after joining from Manchester City as a substitute in the last minutes once the outcome was certain.
Aguero has had a poor start at Camp Nou due to a calf injury, but if he can restore form and health in the coming weeks, the 33-year-old will be a significant alternative for Koeman.
Barca fell behind within the first five minutes for the third time in six outings.
Jordi Alba was in a good position to clear the corner at the near post, but instead skewed to the edge of the penalty area, where Gaya was covered from interception and ripped a stunning shot into the bottom corner.
Ansu was the brightest light in Barcelona. Ansu sprints down the left after a fluid play that started with Frenkie de Jong down the right, but he is unable to complete this time.
He was more clinical in the 13th minute, squaring up two Valencia defenders before releasing Depay inside and exploding between each of them. He returned the ball, raised his eyes, and whipped the ball from the left half of the area into the far right post.
Gaya did a good job stopping Sergino Dest from tapping in at the back post, but his second covering challenge, this time to prevent Ansu from converting Jordi Alba’s cross, was too heavy.
Gaya wrapped his left foot around Ansu’s left leg, and the ruling was upheld as long as he touched the ball. Depay pounced on the opportunity.
After Barca had men over down the left, Ansu tried Jasper Cillessen again in the second half, but Valencia looked dangerous as well, with Carlos Soler’s shot going back off the post and Goncalo Guedes forcing a smart stop from Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
With half an hour left, Ansu was replaced by Philippe Coutinho, and Valencia pushed, as Soler’s pull-back necessitated a critical intervention by Gerard Pique.
Barcelona, on the other hand, weathered the storm and scored a third goal, Coutinho scoring on the turn from close range, before Aguero made his long-awaited debut.
Sevilla moved up to third place after a tough 1-0 win away at Celta Vigo, thanks to a second-half goal from Rafa Mir.
After losing to Granada before the international break, Sevilla bounced back with the kind of tenacious, relentless play that they were known for previous season.
They are three points behind early leaders Real Sociedad with a game in hand, but they have a goal differential advantage over Atletico Madrid.
Celta are now 16th in the table, with seven points from their first nine games.