EuroScout

Euroscout: Isaac Cuenca

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Barcelona's Isaac Cuenca

Ahead of Chelsea's Champions League semi-final first leg against Barcelona, we take a close look at the European champion's young attacking talent Isaac Cuenca.

Full name: Joan Isaac Cuenca Lopez

Date of birth: April 27, 1991 (20 years old)

Place of birth: Reus, Catalonia

Nationality: Spanish

Height: 1.81m (5ft 11in)

Position: Forward

Current club: Barcelona

Previous clubs: Sabadell (loan), Barcelona B

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Yet another product of Barcelona's famous La Masia academy, Isaac Cuenca has broken into the first-team picture this season.

Since making his debut in the final two minutes of a Champions League win at home to Viktoria Plzen back in October, Cuenca has gone on to make 20 appearances for Pep Guardiola's side, 13 of them from the start.

Like almost every other forward in the Barca squad, Cuenca has been deployed in a wide forward role in support of Lionel Messi and has taken to the task well.

Cuenca's style is based more on pace and directness than some of his more meticulous team-mates. He likes to attack his full-back on the flank and either send in a cross or cut inside and shoot. However, his upbringing at La Masia, which was on-and-off since the age of 12, ensures that he is able to exchange quick, succinct passes on a par with the rest of the side

While he did not progress up through various age groups at international level, Cuenca's regular appearances for Barca this term in the absence of the injured David Villa and Ibrahim Afellay have brought him to the attention of Spain coach Vicente del Bosque.

Cuenca opened his Barcelona account on only his second league start for the club, latching on to an Adriano pass before deftly taking the ball past the keeper and scoring in October's 5-0 win over Mallorca.

His second for the club followed four appearances later when he rounded off a typically slick move by passing the ball into the far corner against Levante, another 5-0 home win. While he has not scored since, he has also registered seven assists in all competitions this season, three of those coming in Europe.

Of all players with more than one Champions League assists this season, only Kaka's have come with greater frequency.

Guardiola showed faith in Cuenca by starting him in the second leg of Barca's Champions League quarter-final tie with AC Milan, which was poised at 0-0. Cuenca repaid that faith by playing the full 90 minutes of Barca's 3-1 win.

There may be other young Spanish attacking talents who are earning the plaudits ahead of Cuenca — such as Athletic Bilbao's Iker Muniain — but his involvement this season is proof that he too has a bright future ahead of him.

How much he can contribute for Barca at a crucial time of the season may well determine if that future lies in his native Catalonia or elsewhere.

Here he is compared with Chelsea's tricky forward Juan Mata:

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Analysis from Barcelona's 2-1 at Levante on Saturday, April 14.

45' — Introduced as half-time replacement for Xavi.

47' — First touch is a pass to Thiago Alcantara as Barca build an attack.

49' — His persistence in wide position wins Barca a corner off Vicente Iborra.

57' — Makes a run down the flank but is tracked by winger Valdo and concedes a goal-kick.

64' — Involved in the build-up which led to Alexis Sanchez setting up Lionel Messi's goal from the edge of the box, which made the scoreline 1-1.

71' — Wins a very dubious penalty after appearing to trip Levante full-back Pedro Botelho. Referee waves play on but changes decision after assistant waves flag. Messi scores to make it 2-1.

76' — Played in by Cesc Fabregas but gets ball stuck under feet and clear the danger.

Overall, Cuenca was bright in his movement in a tough environment, with the long grass on the Estadio Ciudad de Valencia and a hostile home crowd, but his delivery was largely poor.

Cuenca was very fortunate to win the penalty but, in essence, his introduction was a game-changer as his direct running gameplay was better suited to the conditions than Xavi's patient passing game.

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