Youth movement pays off for Barça; Atleti lose 3rd in a row
Sports Desk, Dec 18 (EFE).- The young guns made the difference for Barcelona in Saturday’s victory over Elche, while defending champions Atletico Madrid conceded a late winner to Sevilla, who look to be the only club capable of challenging Real Madrid at the top of LaLiga.
For the first time since Barça legend Xavi Hernandez replaced Ronald Koeman as coach last month, the Blaugrana displayed flashes of the brilliance that used to be their trademark.
With top striker Memphis Depay injured, Xavi went with a front three of Ousmane Dembele between two products of Barcelona’s La Masia academy: Ferran Jutgla and Abdessamad Ezzalzouli.
After having a goal disallowed in the 2nd minute for an offside, Jutgla put the hosts ahead in the 16th minute, heading in a Dembele corner to make his first start in LaLiga a game he’ll never forget.
Barça extended their lead just three minutes as 17-year-old midfielder Gavi – another La Masia product – scored his first senior goal.
While the hosts created another half-dozen chances before half-time, none of them led to goals.
Barcelona lost a step in the second half and allowed Elche back into the contest, coughing up goals to Tete Morente and Pere Milla barely a minute apart just after the hour mark.
The teams were level at 2-2 with five minutes left in regulation when sub Nico Gonzalez restored the advantage for Barça with an assist from Gavi.
Xavi’s men climbed to seventh with 27 points, just 2 behind Real Sociedad and Atletico, who came away from their match at Sevilla with nothing.
The home side went up 1-0 in the 7th minute on a blast from distance by Ivan Rakitic, but Atleti got back on terms in the 33rd minute with a goal by Felipe.
With two minutes left in regulation, Lucas Ocampos scored to put Sevilla ahead and Joao Felix sent the ball over the cross-bar on a chance to equalize deep into stoppage time.
A third consecutive loss dropped Atletico to fifth. Second-place Sevilla, meanwhile, narrowed the gap to Real Madrid to 5 points.