Raphinha gets another chance for Barcelona with Dembélé out
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Last year, after a season without titles following the exit of Lionel Messi, Barcelona took the risky decision of selling off a part of its future earnings in exchange for quick cash it could turn into talented signings.
The group of newcomers who arrived at Camp Nou included two players — Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha — tasked with bringing back the punch to an attack that was lackluster following the departure Messi.
Lewandowski did not disappoint. The former Bayern Munich striker assumed the role of a team leader and has not stopped chewing up opposing defenses in the Spanish league.
Raphinha, however, soon became a second option for Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez, who favored having Ousmane Dembélé as a right winger to accompany Lewandowski.
But a door opened for the Brazil international last week when Dembélé injured a muscle in his left thigh just when he was enjoying his best campaign at Barcelona.
Raphinha made the most of his opportunity on Wednesday when he scored the opening goal in a 2-1 win at Real Betis that strengthened Barcelona’s lead in the standings. Lewandowski added a second to take his league-leading tally to 14 goals.
His goal should help Raphinha keep his starting spot when Barcelona hosts a struggling Sevilla on Sunday.
Barcelona leads the league over Real Madrid by eight points before the defending champions play Valencia in a game that was postponed for the Spanish Super Cup. Madrid will then visit Mallorca on Sunday.
Using part of the money it generated from the sale of future television rights and other assets, Barcelona paid Leeds a reported 60 million euros ($65 million) for Raphinha and signed him to a contract through 2027. At his presentation in August, club president Joan Laporta could not help recalling the great Brazilians who have played for Barcelona, including Neymar, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and Ronaldo.
“The ‘jogo bonito’ (‘beautiful game’) is back,” Laporta declared.
But Raphinha failed to produce the same havoc in defenses that Dembélé could with his speed and dribbling. Instead, he had trouble in one-on-one situations and was prone to losing possession.
Considering the other attacking players Xavi has on his squad, including Spain internationals Ferran Torres and Ansu Fati, and the lasting financial drag attached to the money spent on Raphinha, his signing was beginning to look like a questionable expense.
After his goal at Betis, Xavi underscored that Raphinha provides two critical things: his finishing touch and his help in defense by pressuring to recover the ball.
“He was decisive,” Xavi said about Raphinha. “He works for the whole team. He is very important, like Robert. I am pleased.”
That was goal No. 5 since Raphinha arrived. It helped Barcelona reach the impressive tally of 50 points at the season’s midway point.
Barcelona has won the league four times after reaching 50 points or more after 19 matches. It only failed to lift the trophy in that situation in 2013-14.
“We are going through a good moment,” Raphinha said. “The points are a result of our effort. We remain confident for the rest of the season.”
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Credit: Raphinha gets another chance for Barcelona with Dembélé out