Barcelona welcome Huesca to Camp Nou on Monday evening in La Liga for a clash that’s taken on a whole new significance following events in the Spanish capital last night. Real Madrid came back from a goal down to beat Elche while Atletico Madrid drew 0-0 at Getafe, meaning that the title race took on a whole new flavour.
Barcelona are now in third, with a game in hand on both Madrid and Atletico and having won four of their last five. They’re a point behind the former and seven behind the latter, meaning victory would see them leapfrog Madrid and move to within four points of Atletico. That’s a statement that would have been unthinkable only a matter of months ago, but that’s the way things are.
Ronald Koeman’s men crashed out of the Champions League against Paris Saint-Germain last week, but put in one of their best performances of the season in the 1-1 second leg. A commitment to youth has also been integral to the good vibe enveloping the club. Koeman has given chances to players like Pedri, Ronald Araujo and most recently Ilaix Moriba, the 18 year old who made his first team debut for Barcelona against UE Cornella in the Copa del Rey. Evidently loving life, he scored his first goal for the club against Osasuna last week, assisted by his hero Lionel Messi.
“In Conakry, Guinea, the country where Ilaix was born, a spectacular party happened after the match,” Mamady Moriba, his father, told Diario Sport. “They sent me videos celebrating his goal by dancing in the street. I was in shock. I couldn’t stand up. All the children were running around the room but I stayed still. There was so much madness that even my nephew began to cry from the screaming going on.
“I consider Ronald to be like Ilaix’s father. You have to be grateful to a person who gives you a chance at life like he has given my son. Not all coaches make a gesture like that. If it weren’t for Koeman, some of these youngsters wouldn’t be in the first team.”
Mamady spoke with joy about his son’s relationship with Messi. “It’s difficult to take in,” he said. “Ilaix explained to me that Leo is a spectacular person. To get to know him well you have to be with him every day. He’s a very good person. He always tells you to shoot from outside the box. The best in the world jokes around with my son. It’s the dream of any father and I have no words. I really appreciate what he is doing.”