A brilliant Xl of Barcelona players aged 23 or under: Pedri, Gavi, Fati…
While Barcelona have suffered a difficult few years by their standards, there are plenty of signs of encouragement for their fans – as this brilliant XI of young stars demonstrates.
A lot of their big-money signings have failed to live up to expectations, although that didn’t stop Xavi from signing Raphinha and Robert Lewandowski in the summer, but Barcelona already have some very talented youngsters on their books.
We’ve compiled an Xl of their best Under-23 players, arranged in a 4-3-3 formation.
GK: Inaki Pena
Admittedly, this doesn’t get off to the best start.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who turned 30 this year, is firmly established as Barcelona’s first-choice goalkeeper and a 33-year-old Neto serves as his back-up.
Pena is yet to make his first-team debut but has produced some impressive performances for Barcelona’s B side, helping them win the UEFA Youth League in 2017-18.
RB: Sergino Dest
After enjoying an impressive breakthrough season with Ajax, Dest reportedly rejected interest from Bayern Munich before completing an £18.7million move to Barcelona in 2020.
Despite struggling with kick-ups during his presentation, the right-back was a regular starter under former boss Ronald Koeman and made over 70 appearances for the club.
We’re cheating a bit here as he’s currently out on loan at AC Milan, where he’s struggled to find regular opportunities, but his performances for the USA at the World Cup showed he shouldn’t be written off. Dest is a talented player and we wouldn’t be surprised to see him thrive in the right set-up, though that looks unlikely to be Barcelona.
CB: Ronald Araujo
Araujo joined Barcelona from Uruguayan outfit Boston River in 2018 and was initially assigned to their reserves in Segunda Division B.
The 23-year-old made his first-team debut against Sevilla in October 2019 but was sent off just 13 minutes after coming off the bench.
He still did enough to earn a permanent promotion to the senior squad ahead of the 2020-21 season and was handed their No.4 shirt.
The Uruguay international has since proved himself to be an astute defender and is also a real threat in the opposition box, scoring six La Liga goals for Barca.
“I’m very happy to have Ronald on the team,” Xavi said last November. “He has such a great personality. He celebrates everything and to have that type of profile as a defender, to be so engaged with the team, and celebrate everything is hard to find.
“We welcome him with open arms because it’s spectacular to see him train, he’s so positive, he has an excellent character and that’s fundamental to us.”
Araujo seals the points for Barca! 🔵🔴
A great leap and a powerful header from the corner, and an important 3 points for Koeman's side 🔥 pic.twitter.com/RvGjD9oanM
— Viaplay Sports UK (@ViaplaySportsUK) April 22, 2021
CB: Eric Garcia
A La Masia academy graduate, Garcia spent four years at Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City before deciding to return to Barcelona on a free transfer in 2021.
He is regarded as the long-term successor to Gerard Pique but has already become a prominent player at Barcelona, starting 23 games in La Liga during the 2021-22 campaign.
And, unlike Araujo, the Spain international is renowned for his excellent technical ability and likes to bring the ball out of defence.
LB: Alejandro Balde
Balde’s impressive performances for Barcelona’s B side caught the attention of Europe’s biggest clubs, including Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool.
But the teenager decided to sign a new contract at Barcelona and made his senior debut in a Champions League defeat against Benfica in September 2021. But he’s really kicked on this season and has arguably usurped Jordi Alba in Xavi’s best XI.
His performances have been impressive enough to catch Luis Enrique’s eye, and he was a last-minute call-up for the La Roja squad in Qatar.
CM: Nico Gonzalez
Barcelona were disappointed to see Ilaix Moriba leave for RB Leipzig in 2021 but they still have plenty of talented midfielders at their disposal.
Gonzalez, who is the son of Deportivo La Coruna legend Fran, made 37 appearances for Barcelona last season and has been compared to Sergio Busquets due to his role in midfield.
“[Nico] is a player who can mark an era,” former Barcelona B manager García Pimienta told Mundo Deportivo in August 2021. “If everything goes to plan, he is going to be the heir to Busquets.”
That time isn’t quite yet. He’s currently out on loan at Valencia, but we’d be very surprised if he doesn’t return to make his mark at the Camp Nou in the near future.
While Barcelona have made some terrible deals in recent years, they should be praised for signing Pedri for just €5million from Las Palmas in 2020.
The midfielder enjoyed a brilliant debut season at Camp Nou, becoming one of their standout performers and scoring four goals in 52 appearances in all competitions.
He enhanced his burgeoning reputation during Euro 2020, starting all six of Spain’s games in the competition as they reached the semi-finals. And it remains to be seen how far Pedri and Spain can make it in Qatar.
Pedri’s performances for club and country saw him rewarded with the Golden Boy award in 2021, becoming the first Barcelona player since Lionel Messi to win the prize.
The youngest player on this list, Gavi impressed in pre-season and was promoted to Barcelona’s first-team squad ahead of the 2021-22 season.
He made 47 appearances in all competitions and is being compared to his current boss and near-namesake Xavi.
“The way he plays the game is spectacular and he has ambition and personality,” Xavi said in December 2021. “He is the future of this club. But not only him, also Araujo, Balde, Nico, Abde [Ezzalzouli].
“They are the future of the team and the club. They are a fantastic generation. At that age I was scared, but they are wonderful.
“Gavi is a difference maker and I’m delighted to have him, but I don’t want to compare him to anyone. He has no ceiling.”
The 18-year-old also made his Spain debut in their UEFA Nations League semi-final win against Italy in October 2021, becoming the youngest player to ever represent the country at senior level. Now he’s shining at the World Cup.
RW: Ferran Torres
Despite their financial struggles, Barcelona decided to spend an initial £46.3million to sign Torres from Manchester City in January 2022.
The 22-year-old winger, who came through Valencia’s academy, scored 16 goals in 43 appearances for City and helped them win the Premier League and EFL Cup in 2020-21.
Torres struggled to make a major impact during the second half of last season as Barca recovered from a poor start to finish second in La Liga. He’s still not quite caught fire at Barcelona, but there’s definitely a talented player there – just watch him shine for Luis Enrique’s Spain.
ST: Angel Alarcon
Alarcon is probably one of the few players on this list that neutrals haven’t heard of but we doubt that’ll be the case for much longer.
The 18-year-old joined Barcelona’s La Masia academy from Espanyol in the summer of 2018 and has been a prolific goalscorer at youth level.
He’s certainly one to keep an eye on.
Ángel Alarcón • El Killer • 2020/2021. 💥
Some of Ángel's best moments this season. Alarcón is a dynamic and mobile striker who can score goals from almost anywhere. Great finishing, acceleration, balance. He impresses with off-the-ball movement, intelligence, and positioning. pic.twitter.com/eKeUweJ89V
— Piotr Guziński (@Nyctophile1_) April 28, 2021
LW: Ansu Fati
The jewel of Barcelona’s crown, Fati made his senior debut at the age of 16 in August 2019 and later became their youngest-ever goalscorer.
After scoring eight goals in 33 appearances in his breakthrough season, he then missed most of 2020-21 and Euro 2020 due to a serious knee injury.
The Spain international was given Barcelona’s iconic No.10 shirt following Lionel Messi’s departure and, despite another injury-hit campaign, showed enough flashes of quality to support the widely-held opinion that he’s one of the best young footballers in the world.