On Sunday night, it was not Robert Lewandowski that came up with the goods, but for the second game in a row, Brazilian star Raphinha. His winner against Athletic Club maintained Barcelona’s lead at the top of the table at nine points, once again proving his value to the Catalan side.
It has moved him onto nine goals and nine assists for the season, putting him second behind Lewandowski for goals, and making him their top assister of the season so far. Given his tough start, losing his place to Ousmane Dembele, it has been an impressive recovery from Raphinha, whose goals are directly responsible for 12 points this season.
It has made the absence of Dembele seem a little less dramatic than it did at the end of January, when he went down with injury against Girona. The pair will engage in a fierce battle for the spot on the right wing once Dembele is back in April.
No matter how well Raphinha plays in El Clasico this weekend though, it should not distract them from how well Dembele has played this season. The French forward is out of contract in 2024, and will be facing tricky negotiations with the club in the coming months, as they seek to retain him at an affordable price.
According to Sport, if Paris Saint-Germain do manage to find an exit for Neymar Junior this summer – a big if – then they will go after Dembele as his replacement. Sporting Advisor Luis Campos is a fan of the 25-year-old, and PSG were strongly linked with him last summer.
Even though Raphinha now has better statistics than Dembele though, their impact on the game still differs greatly. With his electric pace Dembele drags opposition sides back towards their own goal, without which the Blaugrana can be more effectively pressed.
While Lewandowski’s production was down in January too, with Dembele there it is not surprising to see he has struggled much more with Raphinha there too. Dembele creates space for Lewandowski, and provides him with a variety of service, whereas Raphinha tends to look for him almost exclusively with the curling in left-footed cross.
Ultimately, if any defender were to be asked whom they would rather face, the answer nine times out of ten would be Dembele. The Frenchman is the more dangerous, and the more difficult to defend, despite Raphinha’s effective showings of late.
Hence in the knowledge of PSG’s interest, Barcelona would be prudent to ensure they do not give the Frenchman any doubts about renewing his deal with them. He will have to give them a discounted rate regardless, and thus Barcelona should not take their eye off the ball with Dembele, in spite of Raphinha’s good form.