Barcelona were victorious over Villarreal at the weekend by a slim margin, coming via the hand of Pedri who got their winning goal. Ronald Araujo was highlighted as the standout from the match for his remarkable recovery challenges, and Frenkie de Jong was at the heart of the midfield effort, intercepting, tackling and directing Barcelona’s play.
A point which is significant. Eight months ago it seemed as if de Jong was destined to leave the club, with the leadership certainly augering for a move. Barcelona’s Europa League opponents Manchester United looked determined to make the move happen. Yet de Jong dug his heels in to remain in Catalonia.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen is delighted that is the case.
“I was hoping he would stay because this is the type of player I want in my team. There were rumours and discussions and whatever but I am just happy he is here and I don’t want him to leave. I want to make that very clear.”
He made those comments to Sid Lowe in The Guardian, remarking that de Jong has a different appreciation of the game than others.
“I have a super-high opinion about Frenkie. I also expect a lot. A player like him is, pfff, really good to have because he has so much talent. He sees and feels football in a different way … He’s someone that players like Gavi and Pedri can look up to and, well, I think he’s just a great player.
Gesturing as if to lock handcuffs to a chair, ter Stegen was willing to go to extra measures to keep the Dutchman.
“I think one day I will just put something here to just keep him here for always.”
For the first time in his Barcelona career, de Jong looks to have found a role he is comfortable in and exploits his best attributes. The switch to a four-man midfield with Sergio Busquets alongside him, and Pedri and Gavi ahead of him. It has been a crucial shift in Barcelona’s season.