Barcelona extended their lead at the top of the La Liga table on Sunday night, with a narrow 1-0 victory over Villarreal in Castellon. It was a long way from vintage Barcelona, but there were also several performances that will provide encouragement for Barcelona.
Perhaps none more so than that of Ronald Araujo, who was monumental in defence, but many highlighted the work of Frenkie de Jong in midfield too. Partnered by Franck Kessie, de Jong recovered the ball on nine occasions and made 6 interceptions during the match, constantly breaking up Villarreal attacks.
De Jong has gone from starting on the bench in the early stages of the season to a key player at the heart of operations, particularly in 2023. According to Xavi Hernandez, he has found his place.
“I think the key is confidence. We are giving him that confidence, he feels he fits in the team, he feels happy, he is enjoying himself, he is important for the team.”
“For a midfielder, he is complete. He has all of the qualities to perform well. Today, we struggled to find superiority in the middle but even when things are equal numerically, he is capable of getting out of it, and making the difference. He is at a very high level.”
The Dutch midfielder, with the possible exception of a brief run under Ronaldo Koeman, is playing his best football since he arrived in Barcelona. At the fourth attempt, it appears de Jong has finally found a manager that knows how to get the best out of him.
Frenkie is just the same from his days at Ajax. It is Barca that changed.