After a flying start to the 2021/22 season against Real Sociedad last weekend, Barcelona were brought down to the earth on Saturday as they scraped to a 1-1 draw away to Athletic Club at San Mames.
It was a display completely in contrast to the one that the Catalans had put up against La Real at Camp Nou, and the daggers are once again out against manager Ronald Koeman.
Nonetheless, it was not all doom and gloom for the Blaugrana following the stalemate on their trip to the Basque country.
Ronald Araujo looked fairly solid at the back after replacing the injured Gerard Pique, notably pulling off a vital goalline clearance to deny Alex Berenguer in the second half. But it was the Dutch duo of Memphis Depay and Frenkie de Jong that offered a beacon of hope for the future for the Cules.
It has been only a month since the former arrived at Camp Nou, signing on a free transfer, but the way he has started, one wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that he had been playing with Barca for years now.
After a promising pre-season, Depay started against Real Sociedad with an impressive display during which he set up a goal and looked dangerous going forward. And, on Saturday, against Athletic Club, the 27-year-old scored his first goal for Barcelona, and what a goal it was.
Alert to keep himself onside, Depay displayed a brilliant couple of touches to get the ball under his spell before rushing into the box and thumping it into the back of the net, to rescue a point for his side. Prior to that, he had been lively throughout, notably setting up a chance for Martin Braithwaite early in the game, which the Dane missed.
Dazzling De Jong
De Jong, meanwhile, having completed two years at Barcelona, seems to be just getting better and better with each passing game. The former AFC Ajax ace was one of the Catalans’ best players in the season opener and while he started a bit slow against Athletic, the 24-year-old was running the show in the second half.
Driving forward runs, sharp, piercing passes, as well as a fine effort that deserved a goal but bounced off the woodwork – De Jong led Barcelona’s charge after they went behind.
The pair almost combined to win it for the Blaugrana late in the game when De Jong set Depay up for a chance, but the forward’s effort went inches wide.
The future is here
Speaking after the game, Koeman hailed both Memphis and De Jong. “Memphis? I’m not surprised. In a short time, he has shown his quality,” he said while also adding, “De Jong was better in the second half than the first. He breaks the lines. In general, he has played a great game.”
With Lionel Messi leaving the club, Antoine Griezmann was expected to step up and take over the mantle of being the senior forward for Barcelona. However, going by early signs, it is Depay that is slowly, but surely, assuming the mantle of the club’s premier forward.
As for De Jong, if it was not clear to anyone as to why Barcelona had splashed so much money on him two years ago, it is becoming abundantly clear now. The duo, with proper support from those around them, has what it takes to lead the Catalans into a new successful era.
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