After a 2-2 draw in LaLiga against Osasuna in December, Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez didn’t know whether to be delighted or despondent about the role three teenagers played in securing a point for his side.
Nico Gonzalez and Abde Ezzalzouli scored the goals at El Sadar that day, with Gavi setting the former up during another dazzling display that shows why he is already a regular for Spain’s national team at the age of 17. Xavi noted that all three had been “extraordinary,” but added it was “difficult to digest” that it was the young players “propping the team up.”
Barca’s young players have bailed them out several times this season. If it’s not Nico, Abde or Gavi, then it’s Ansu Fati, Ronald Araujo or Pedri. The club’s financial crisis which saw Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann leave last summer to ease the burden on the wage bill has translated to a renewed focus and greater dependence on youth.
In total, eight players from either the B team or the U-19 team have made their LaLiga debuts this season. That number doesn’t include Ansu, Araujo and Pedri, who had already established themselves as regulars, although Pedri joined the first team directly from second division Las Palmas in 2020. Ten teenagers have scored in the Spanish top flight in 2021-22, and five of them play for Barca: Gavi, Ansu, Pedri, Nico and Abde (although Nico and Abde have recently turned 20).
This generation shift has been the one sliver of light in a largely catastrophic season for Barcelona. They failed to make the Champions League last 16 this year for the first time since 2003 and are 15 points off the pace in LaLiga. Their sole objective right now is to ensure a top-four finish and a return to the Champions League next term.