If you follow Spanish football, you are very likely to have heard of Riqui Puig. The hype surrounding the 20-year-old is quite massive considering he has played only three La Liga games in his career. But that doesn't mean he isn't worth the hype.
Riqui Puig would walk into the first team at most clubs in the Spanish top-flight and definitely deserves more game-time at Barcelona. His talents were on full show in Quique Setien's first game in charge. Barcelona were playing sublime football but a goal was missing when Riqui Puig came on for Ivan Rakitic in the 71st minute.
Puig won the ball back and started the move that led to Barcelona's only goal in the game. In those 20 minutes, Riqui Puig completed more passes than any opposition player did in the entire game.
What do the experts say about Riqui Puig?
Former AC Milan manager Gennaro Gattuso was left awestruck by Riqui Puig when his team faced Barcelona in a pre-season friendly. He had said at the time:
"Riqui Puig is a spectacle, to see boys who still have a child's face and how they treat the ball is something that amazes me, they feel football inside and it's something like poetry. I've heard them talking about him for some time, it's something you can't cut and paste into another club."
Cesc Fabregas knows a thing or two about talented Spanish midfielders from the La Masia considering he himself was one. He heaped praise on Riqui Puig after the Granada game.
"Riqui Puig can become like Iniesta, for example, if coaches trust him. I know that comparing him with Andres are big words but such a player could cost a fortune in today's market. I'm sure Riqui has what it takes to succeed, he just has to have the right attitude and keep improving," said Fabregas.
Riqui Puig's playing style
Riqui Puig's best position is as a left central midfielder, a place in the field once occupied by the legendary Andres Iniesta at Barcelona. Puig has a keen eye for a pass and can dictate the tempo of the game with ease.
Among all of Barcelona's midfielders, Riqui Puig's attacking numbers are the best this season. According to data by totalfootballanalysis.com that includes stats from his Barça B appearances, Riqui Puig has the best progressive runs per 90 (5.97) by a distance and is second in both xG and shots per 90 values (2.18 & 1.65 respectively).
It means Riqui Puig carries the ball into the final third quite frequently and also gets into good shooting and goal-scoring positions. His dribbling numbers are quite good too, meaning that his qualities would be good value against teams that set up in a low block, which happens quite often against Barcelona.
Riqui Puig's defensive numbers, though, are not quite up to the mark and his upper body strength is a work in progress. But thankfully for him, if there is a team where technical quality is prioritised over height or physical strength, it is Barcelona.
What does the future hold for Riqui Puig?
It is common knowledge that Barcelona's famous La Masia academy is in free fall. Riqui Puig is widely believed to be the best player to have come out of it in the last few years, and hence a lot of Barcelona fans want to see him on the pitch more often.
The Barcelona coaches, though, haven't handled the situation any better; both Ernesto Valverde and Quique Setien have shied away from the risk of playing the youngster. Cules believe that Riqui Puig should have been integrated into the first team like Ansu Fati was but it hasn't happened to date.
A midfield comprising Riqui Puig, Arthur and Frenkie de Jong in the future is certainly a dream for Barcelona fans, but the Blaugrana will have to guard against losing Riqui Puig. At this moment Puig finds himself quite low in the pecking order, behind the likes of the experienced duo of Arturo Vidal and Ivan Rakitic and perhaps even behind the loaned-out pair of Philippe Coutinho and Carles Alena.
But the people at Barcelona recognise his talents. Earlier this year Iniesta gave Riqui Puig some heartfelt advice:
"Keep playing at Barca B and take advantage of every game you have. If you get to the first team, keep doing the same, take advantage of each game. You have to trust your talent and learn from the ones next to you."
Riqui Puig too clearly wants to fight it out and break into the first team having rejected advances from Tottenham Hotspur and Al Sadd (managed by his idol Xavi Hernandez). There have been talks of a loan move and Celta Vigo, if they stay up, seems to be Riqui Puig's favoured destination. But one thing is for certain: wherever and whenever Riqui Puig gets the chance to shine, he will be a star.