Who are the youngsters Barca will turn to in El Clasico?
Published : Saturday, 24 October, 2020 at 9:45 AM Count : 284
Pedri, Francisco Trincao, Sergino Dest, Riqui Puig, Ronald Araujo… they are far from household names, but some of these youngsters will play prominent roles for Barcelona in Saturday's Clasico showdown with Real Madrid.
After a disastrous conclusion to last season, new Barca coach Ronald Koeman is attempting to re-energise his team with a batch of fresh talent who, this weekend, will aim to make a name for themselves in the most high-profile fixture of them all.
Let's find out more about them.
Old, slow, expensive… and gone
Too old, too slow.
That was the widespread and damningly simple verdict on Barcelona's squad after their humiliating 8-2 Champions League defeat by Bayern Munich in August.
Incoming coach Koeman and the club's hierarchy agreed, and the new campaign was preceded by the cut-price sales of thirty-something stars Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal.
In their place, Koeman has been turning to youth, liberally sprinkling his selections with a group of kids with the aim of instilling greater energy and dynamism, sweeping away the cobwebs of a side that had grown stale.
In part, it is a symbolic move intended to show that the new man in charge has his own ideas, will not automatically favour the established hierarchy and has a genuine determination to revitalise a decaying team.
But there was also a strong element of necessity, especially from the board's perspective. The club is beset by deep financial problems - recently announcing debts of nearly half a billion euros - and the chance to replace high-earning veterans with low-cost youngsters was too good to miss.
So the young guns are on the scene. But who are they?
Fati shooting towards superstardom
The most-used and most impressive youngster is a superstar in the making who first burst onto the scene last season, Ansu Fati.
The Guinea-Bissau born forward, who joined Barca's academy at the age of 10, became the team's youngest scorer when he netted against Osasuna last August.
He has started the new campaign with more milestones: last month he became Spain's youngest scorer, in a 3-0 victory over Ukraine, and on Tuesday he became the youngest player to score two Champions League goals, with a strike against Ferencvaros.
Fati, still only 17, also scored three goals in Barca's first two league games of the season, and he is firmly established as the first-choice left-wing selection in Koeman's 4-2-3-1 formation.
Another youth-team graduate many fans would love to see become a similarly automatic starter is Riqui Puig, a 21 year-old ball-playing midfielder who broke through under Quique Setien at the end of last season but has struggled to convince Koeman, only making his first appearance under the new boss as a late substitute against Getafe last weekend.
Summer signings making an impact
Barca seem to have struck gold with the recruitment of Pedri, a 17-year-old who was snapped up for just €5m (£4.44m) from second-tier Las Palmas where he broke into the first team with 37 appearances last season.
A slender but technically sublime attacking midfielder full of clever touches and deft changes of pace, Pedri has appeared in every game under Koeman.
His first start of the season came in last weekend's loss at Getafe where he shone in an otherwise poor performance, and on Tuesday he scored his first goal for the club in the win over Ferencvaros. After Fati's earlier strike, that made Barca the first team in Champions League history with two 17-year-olds on the scoresheet.
Another summer arrival to play in every game this season is Francisco Trincao, a 20-year-old Portugal international who was signed for €31m (£27.53m) after scoring nine goals for Braga last season.
A strong and elegant player with an eye for goal, Trincao started against Ferencvaros in midweek and has taken advantage of Antoine Griezmann's ongoing struggles to become a serious contender to play on the right flank in El Clasico.
At the back, there could also be a start for 19-year-old Dutch-born American international Sergino Dest. The versatile full-back joined from Ajax last month for an initial €21m (£18.65m) and was intended to ease his way into the squad as a back-up, but an injury to Jordi Alba has accelerated his progress.
Another emerging talent is Uruguayan defender Ronald Araujo (21), who has leapt in front of Samuel Umtiti as the first back-up to Clement Lenglet and Gerard Pique, giving a strong performance when Lenglet was suspended for the recent goalless draw with Sevilla.
In truth, with the exception of the outstanding Fati it's still too early to judge with confidence whether any of the youngsters will ultimately be good enough to become regular starters for a club of Barca's stature.
But Koeman is certainly giving them chances, and producing match-winning heroics against Real Madrid on Saturday would be the best possible way to show they truly belong.