Joao Felix flourishing at Barcelona as he returns to Portugal to face youth club FC Porto

Tue, Oct 3, 2023
Soccer News (AP)

Joao Felix flourishing at Barcelona as he returns to Portugal to face youth club FC Porto

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) - It has taken Joao Felix several years and a couple of false starts, but the creative forward who left Portugal to aim for greater heights in Spain has finally found a team where he can flourish.

Or so it seems after a handful of games with Barcelona, the team he joined in August just hours before the transfer window closed after a frustrating stint at Atletico Madrid.

Felix is now heading back to Portugal when Barcelona faces FC Porto in its second game of the Champions League group stage on Wednesday. Felix played for Porto as a youngster before eventually joining fierce rival Benfica at age 15, where he broke out as a teenager and was signed by Atletico in 2019.

But after he repeatedly chafed under Diego Simeone's defend-first, attack-second playing style, Felix eventually fell out with Atletico's coach and spent the second half of last season on a disappointing loan stint at Chelsea.

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On returning to Atletico in the offseason, Felix did what he could to force a move to Barcelona by publicly stating that he wanted to play for Xavi Hernandez's side. He then accepted a pay cut to help fit within Barcelona's wage limits, which were already strained.

The move has so far paid off for both player and team.

The 23-year-old Felix has scored three goals and meshed well with his teammates since he joined Barcelona. Two of those goals came against Antwerp in Barcelona's 5-0 rout in their Champions League opener last month.

The game at Estadio do Dragao is billed to be the toughest game of the group phase for Barcelona. Both clubs have three points atop Group H. Antwerp and Shakhtar Donetsk have zero before they meet in Belgium also on Wednesday.

The match comes after Barcelona's 16-year-old Lamine Yamal on Monday signed a new contract through June 2026 that included a one-billion euro ($1-billion) buyout clause.

Yamal became the youngest player to play for Barcelona at age 15 in April. He then became the youngest scorer in a European Championship qualifier when he debuted for Spain last month.

A game at Porto was the setting for Lionel Messi's debut for Barcelona 20 years ago. While Yamal is still far from reaching the level of the club's greatest player, he has shown flashes of excellence and is already contributing to victories.

He has yet to score for Barcelona despite generating several chances for himself and his older teammates. His most recent clutch contribution was on Friday when his headed pass into the box was inadvertently turned into his own net by Sevilla defender Sergio Ramos to gift Barcelona a 1-0 win.

Barcelona will be without midfielders Pedri Gonzalez and Frenkie de Jong and forward Raphinha, who are all recovering from injuries.

Porto beat Shakhtar 3-1 last month when they played in Hamburg, Germany, where the Ukrainian champion has been forced to play since Russia's invasion of its country. Porto's Brazilian winger Galeno struck two goals in that victory.

Porto had won six and drawn one in the Portuguese league before it lost at Benfica 1-0 on Friday. It also lost to Benfica in the Portuguese Super Cup in August.

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