Frenkie de Jong shows flashes of brilliance on Barcelona debut but needs time to settle

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Aritz Aduriz produced the best first touch of his 38-year-long life to hand Athletic Bilbao a famous opening day victory over Barcelona on Friday.

The La Liga champions were left stunned when the veteran executed a spectacular bicycle-kick just inside the area from Ander Capa’s cross in the 89th minute to send the home support at San Mames Stadium into delirium.

After an incredibly tight 87 minutes, the veteran made his way onto the pitch and landed the lethal blow seconds later as the Rojiblancos celebrated a 1-0 win.

Barcelona twice struck the woodwork through Luis Suarez and Rafinha but were unable to create enough openings in the absence of the injured Lionel Messi.

New signings Frenkie de Jong and Antoine Griezmann made their debuts for the Catalans but here we focus on the young Dutchman’s performance after his first taste of La Liga action.

KEY STATS

Passes (success-rate): 66 (93.9%)

Tackles: 1

Fouled: 2

Key passes: 0

Interceptions: 2

Dribbles: 2

Touches: 75

30-SECOND REPORT

This was far from a comfortable debut for De Jong who anchored Barcelona’s midfield in a 4-3-3 system away from home. Inside two minutes, the youngster was decked by an enthusiastic Raul Garcia challenge. The message was clear, he wouldn’t be afforded time on the ball.

Garcia spent much of the encounter shadowing De Jong whenever Barca were in possession before substitute Oihan Sancet took over later in the second half when the veteran dropped deeper.

De Jong was hardly a liability but he didn’t have enough of an influence on the game as he would’ve liked, and certainly didn’t see enough of the ball despite his side dominating possession. His display mirrored Barcelona’s frustrations as they struggled to carve open the home team.

He did a lot of good things but never really took command.

GOT RIGHT – RETAINING POSSESSION

De Jong is completely at ease on the ball and could recycle possession in his sleep. Bilbao went to considerable lengths to ensure he didn’t have things all his own way, yet they could never get the ball off him.

The 22-year-old’s ability to operate in confined spaces, shield the ball and wriggle his way out of a corner is truly special. With an opponent right on top of him in the first half and two more red and white shirts on either side, De Jong received the ball on the edge of the box, went on to dribble inside the area before eventually making space and spreading the ball wide.

There was another moment in the second period when he flicked the ball over Garcia, sold him a dummy and then nonchalantly squared the ball back to Pique. Brilliant.

GOT WRONG – FORWARD PASSES

When De Jong got on the ball he was often faced with an opponent right in front of him, forcing him to play sideways or behind. It was a ploy he struggled to cope with and restricted his ability to play forward passes.

The former Ajax star didn’t play enough penetrative passes to break the lines and put his side on the front foot. Ernesto Valverde ended up bringing Ivan Rakitic on at half-time who proceeded to take more responsibility by trying to drive Barca forward.

VERDICT

There’s a lot more to come from the young playmaker and he showed moments of brilliance. However, his inexperience in a new league was also evident. Didn’t have the authority in the middle that Sergio Busquets so often does. A lot of positives to take from this – despite the defeat – but also a warning that he needs time to settle into his new surroundings.

Rating: 6/10

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