Barcelona travelled to Celta Vigo for the first leg of their last 16 Copa del Rey clash on Thursday night, with our player in focus, Jose Arnaiz, scoring in a 1-1 draw.
The 22-year-old was given the chance to shine by boss Ernesto Valverde again, following his goal in each leg of the previous round against Real Murcia.
And he didn’t disappoint.
Arnaiz took just under 15 minutes to break the deadlock at Balaidos, showing off his predatory instincts inside the penalty area.
It means the Barcelona No.37 has now scored in each of his three first-team appearances for the Catalan giants to date this season, after banging in goals aplenty in the Spanish La Liga 2.
Here, we analyse his performance during 71 minutes of action on Thursday evening.
THE MATCH ITSELF AND ARNAIZ’S POSITIONAL PLAY
The La Liga giants rested a host of stars for the trip to Vigo, but the first XI still possessed plenty of quality as well as the substitutes’ bench – featuring the returning Ousmane Dembele.
For Arnaiz, who signed for Barcelona from Valladolid in August, he had the chance to lead the line with support from Andre Gomes on the left and Nelson Semedo on the right.
It was working for the visitors as Arnaiz grabbed the early opener but Pione Sisto cancelled out that strike in the 31st minute – and it ended all-square.
Incidentally, the world’s second most-expensive player, Dembele, came on as a second-half sub for Arnaiz to play competitive football for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury back in September.
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The young talent was a fox-in-the-box, holding his position just outside the penalty box before moving inside as Denis Suarez’s lovely run and pass found Gomes, who squared the ball across the penalty area for the winger-cum-striker to slot home with his left peg.
It was clear evidence that he has an eye for goal and is composed under pressure when presented with the chance to finish.
Aside from his goal, Arnauz held his position as the central frontman – occupying two centre-backs – but wasn’t afraid to drop deep from time to time to collect the ball or indeed hassle and harrie the opposition.
In the second-half, Lucas Digne’s pin-point cross to the back stick found the head of Arnauz, and despite doing well to get a good connection on the ball, the angle worked against him.
With more game-time in the first-team, he should start to improve his link-up play and awareness of bringing other runners into play with greater regularity.
Likewise, his first touch and fleet-of-foot when dribbling with the ball looked a bit similar to a certain Barcelona No.10, but his final pass needs working on. Fitness-wise, he looked to be suffering from a touch of cramp before being replaced late on but that is only natural for someone who hasn’t played that many games of late.
If Arnauz’s rise continues, the diminutive Spaniard could press the likes of Deulofeu, and dare I say it, Dembele, for a first-team spot especially for the rest of the La Liga season.
Make no mistake that the Barcelona starlet’s skill level is still raw but the Catalonian club have more than enough there to work with. Certainly, expect to see Arnauz feature more regularly in the coming months.
Brazilian international forward Coutinho has been linked with a 150 million euro (£134 million; $180 million) switch to the Spanish giants in the current transfer window just as he was when the English side thwarted a series of approaches from Barca last summer.
“I have nothing to say on the subject of Coutinho, he isn’t one of our players,” said Valverde.
“He is at another team and we respect the fact that he is at another team. He is a great player and we don’t know what is going to happen in the future.
“However, I much prefer the players that I currently have in my team and they are the ones who concern me.”
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has also refused to get caught up in the feverish speculation over the 25-year-old’s immediate future.
Rumours of a move to the Camp Nou were fuelled by pictures – subsequently removed – of a Barcelona shirt with Coutinho’s name appearing on the website of Nike, the Catalan club’s kit manufacturer, over the weekend.
“I heard about it. Somebody told me and I thought ‘wow’. But I couldn’t be less interested in anything in the world!” Klopp said.
Barcelona took a huge step towards regaining the La Liga title as goals from Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Aleix Vidal beat bitter rivals Real Madrid 3-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday to open up a 14-point lead over the European champions.
In a recurring theme of this season Madrid were made to pay for Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema missing first-half chances as Barca took control after half-time.
Suarez rounded off a flowing counter-attack to open the scoring before Messi blasted home a penalty after Madrid defender Dani Carvajal was sent-off for punching the ball off the goal line.
And Messi was the creator as Vidal rubbed salt into Real’s wounds deep into stoppage time.
Here we look at the player ratings for Barcelona.
Ter Stegen 8. Another outstanding performance for his 11th clean sheet of the campaign. Made a decent stop with his foot to deny Ronaldo in the first half but really shone towards the end, making two key stops from Bale and another from Ramos to prevent a late scare.
Roberto 7. Digilent in defence, although he was tested by Marcelo in the first half, and broke forward superbly to set up Suarez’s opener with an unselfish pass. Moved to midfield for the final stages when Iniesta was replaced.
Pique 9. Excellent in the centre of defence, barely putting a foot wrong. Made a key block at the near post on Benzema in the first half and dealt with anything thrown at him with composure and conviction. Was often left as a ‘spare man’ by Madrid as they focussed on Busquets, but he used the ball well.
Vermaelen 6. Picked up an early booking for a foul on Modric and looked generally vulnerable in the first half. Better after the break and always strong in the air.
Alba 7. Couldn’t get as forward as much as usual due to the attacking threat of Carvajal, but his first dangerous run resulted in a chance for Suarez just before the opener, and he was solid defensively.
Paulinho 8. Played on the right of midfield but was always looking to burst into the box and had Barca’s only two chances in the first half, drawing saves from Navas with a fierce strike and a header. Continued to trouble Madrid’s defence with his powerful movement and is starting to symbolise the team’s new style.
Busquets 8. A poor start, losing possession regularly and looking generally out of sorts as he was man marked by Kroos. Completely different in the second half, which saw him totally control the midfield. Played the key pass to release Rakitic in the build-up to the first goal.
Rakitic 7. Almost invisible in the first half but really grew into the game after the break and led the counter-attack which led to Suarez’s opening goal. Contributed fully to his team’s dominance after that.
Iniesta 7. Some classy touches but a largely peripheral figure before being replaced by Nelson Semedo for the final 15 minutes. However, he worked hard defensively during the first half including one key clearance to deny Carvajal a huge chance.
Messi 9. Generally quiet in the first half but still created two chances for Paulinho, the first with a delicious pass. On a different planet after the break, looking capable of creating chances every time he touched the ball. His passing was sublime – including a one-booted assist for the third goal – and his penalty was fearlessly smashed into the top corner.
Suarez 7. Worked tirelessly to unsettle the home team defence. His first sight of goal early in the second half forced Navas into a low save, and he scored a minute later with an emphatic finish to back up the suggestion he is returning to his best following a poor start to the season. Should have scored again just before the penalty.
Semedo 6: Came on supposedly shore things up but nearly gave away a goal with a terrible first touch. Improved after that and came close to a goal with an angled shot after a speedy surge.
Gomes 6: A late replacement for Paulinho. Found plenty of space on the left but wasted a late chance for a third goal by blazing over the bar.
Vidal: Introduced for the closing seconds and had enough time to score the final goal with one of only three touches.