Sevilla beats Atlético to close on leaders; Gavi leads Barcelona

Gavi of FC Barcelona scores their team's second goal during the LaLiga Santander match between FC Barcelona and Elche CF at Camp Nou on December 18, 2021 in Barcelona, Spain. 

Seventeen-year-old Gavi Páez teamed up with two more of Barcelona's young talents to beat a resilient Elche 3-2 in the Spanish league on Saturday.

Ferrán Jutlgà and Gavi scored their first goals for Barcelona to give it a 2-0 halftime lead.

Elche rallied with two goals early in the second half, but Gavi assisted 19-year-old Nico González to score the 85th-minute winner from a pass by Gavi.

“The only thing I was thinking was that that ball had to go in one way or another,” Nico said about his winner. “We are very happy. At 2-2 we knew we were facing a tough rival and recently things have not been going our way.”

Barcelona’s first win in four games across all competitions moved it to seventh place, still a distant 15 points from leader Real Madrid.

Jutlgà, 22, who made his debut as a late substitute in the last round, was a surprise choice by Xavi Hernández to start as a false nine in place of injured striker Memphis Depay.

Gavi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring their team's second goal during the LaLiga Santander match between FC Barcelona and Elche CF at Camp Nou on December 18, 2021 in Barcelona, Spain.


The choice paid off when Jutlgà headed home a cross from Ousmane Dembelé following a corner kick for the 16th-minute opener.

Gavi quickly doubled the lead three minutes later with a dazzling evasive dribble. He used a brilliant first touch with the inside of his boot as he quickly turned to ditch his marker before cutting past Elche’s last man and firing a shot in off the post.

Gavi's first goal of a breakout season that has earned him a call-up for Spain thrilled the Camp Nou crowd hungry to find new favorites after Lionel Messi left the club orphaned.

Barcelona then suffered another letdown as substitutes Tete Morente and Pere Milla led Elche back.

Morente halved the deficit in the 62nd when he blasted the ball past Marc-Andre ter Stegen on a counterattack. A minute later Morente was back in the action when he dribbled past Jordi Alba to the end line and crossed for Milla all alone to head home the equalizer.

That was when Gavi linked up with Nico, who had gone on as a substitute. Gavi exchanged passes with Dembelé in the box before he found Nico to coolly drill a shot into the upper corner of the net.

Xavi praised his crop of young players, above all Gavi.

“I played here when I was 17 years old and I was scared. But these players have loads of character, and I am thrilled to have them," Xavi said. "And Gavi, the way he plays, it is priceless for the team. ... What he is doing, making the difference, scoring and setting up another goal. The sky is the limit.”


Rayo Vallecano maintained its league-best home record after beating Alavés for its eighth win in this campaign at Vallecás Stadium.

Gerard Moreno scored two goals and set up another as Villarreal won at Real Sociedad 3-1 for its first road win in the league.

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