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After a a tight Champions League first leg against Napoli, Barcelona took advantage of a fast start to win 3-1, pushing into the last eight teams remaining 4-2 on aggregate.

Fueled by goals from Fermin Lopez and Joao Cancelo, Xavi Hernandez was able to make an unorthodox lineup work and withstand Napoli targeting Andreas Christensen in defensive midfield. Led by their youth, three players 20 or younger contributed to Barcelona’s victory, and none of them were named Pedri or Gavi, who are among the most well-established first-team La Maisa graduates currently in the squad.

It has been a trying season for Barcelona and a lot will change as Xavi is departing at the end of the season but the fruit of his baptism by fire of his younger players has paid dividends. Out of the 29 players to feature for Barcelona in La Liga or Champions League play this season, 11 of them are 21 years old or younger and the youngest of them, Lamine Yamal, has played the eight most minutes of any Barcelona player this season in the two competitions.
Only 16, Yamal is in uncharted waters as he has become arguably Barcelona’s second or third-best attacker behind Robert Lewandoski and Raphinha at his young age with six goals and seven assists in all competitions. It’s one thing to play minutes at his age in a top-five league but it’s a completely different prospect to contribute so much in those appearances.

Yamal is someone who when you watch him play soccer, the it factor is there. From dribbling to his work rate to winning the ball back to his vision and ability to create something out of nothing, when most would be contemplating who to take to the homecoming dance at school, Yamal is starring for Barcelona and being called into the Spain squad. His contributions can be seen in Barcelona’s second goal where his pass from deep found Raphinha before Cancelo eventually powered it home.

Even with his impressive performance, Yamal wasn’t even the most impressive teenager in the match as Pau Cubarsi took home man of the match honors for his performance in defense.

It may be a season for Barcelona that doesn’t end in silverware but this seems like the beginning of what could be a great era for the club if proper development continues. Financial issues can be eased by relying on the academy and under Xavi they’re showing improvement by the day. Playing with house money in the last eight of the Champions League, Barcelona will become a team that no one wants to face as when there is no pressure and nothing to lose, that’s when a team can shine the brightest. By even making it this far, they’re going to see Xavi off the right way, but now it’s down to seeing how far Barcelona’s academy can take their manager.

Source: CBS

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