Push Dembele, like Benzema did with Vinicius Jr. in Madrid

In recent months, Barcelona have been feverishly trying to cut their player salaries by tens of millions of euros. But if Robert Lewandowski can triumph in the hidden task he now knows lies ahead, then LaLiga club president Joan Laporta should immediately double the Polish forward’s salary.

As long as Lewandowski and Karim Benzema stay fit, this season will be an exciting, high-stakes head-to-head battle between them to score enough goals to elevate their respective teams to trophies.

Real Madrid man Benzema obviously has a significant advantage having used Vinicius Junior as a brilliant and increasingly inspirational strike partner in recent seasons. Last season, the Franco-Brazilian duo shared 111 goals and assists Los Blancos while conquering both Spain and Europe. Destructive.

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And while the ex-Bayern Munich native has already discovered that Pedri, Ansu Fati and Raphinha have an innate understanding of his box movement, the guy who has the strongest profile as Lewandowski’s “Vinicius” is the occasionally brilliant but always frustrating Ousmane Dembele. These two men, although both have a history at Borussia Dortmund, are in a new partnership.

Lewandowski is not famous for his patience in the face of second-rate work and while his tolerance has not yet been shattered, Saturday’s victory in Seville proved the magnitude of the work ahead of him. Barcelona, ​​who looked like they could concede two or three goals in the first 20 minutes, led 2-0 in four games thanks to Raphinha and Lewandowski’s fifth goal.

Sevilla’s corner just before half-time flew to the back post where Pedri volleyed it clear, knowing the home side only had two defenders behind and Dembele lurking halfway down the pitch. A visionary, improvised pass. The Frenchman set off like a charged Road Runner. His marker Gonzalo Montiel had a petrified expression on his face.

Only two men were properly chasing Dembele’s escapees: Sevilla’s Joan Jordan and 35-year-old Lewandowski. As Jordan gradually looked like he was wading through wet cement, Lewandowski ratcheted up meaning Barcelona suddenly had a brilliant two-on-one opportunity to kill Julen Lopetegui’s side just before half-time .

Dembele just had to show a killer mentality by playing the screamingly obvious pass to his career-goal 565 strike partner. Whether you watched the incident or not, you will have guessed by now that Dembele did the rampant, mindless thing: ignoring his team-mate and compounding the madness by chasing a tight-angle shot over the bar.

What followed was weird – unless of course you were Lewandowski or Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez. Dembele briefly put his hands to his head, didn’t apologize to his astonished team-mate and then trotted down the pitch as if Hey ho! No problem!

The veteran Polish goalscorer just stood there, lungs panting, hands on knees, staring open-mouthed at the Frenchman with a stunned expression who said: What the hell did I just see?! What the hell am I just sprinting 70 meters for?

It’s exactly the sort of thing you might have done to Vinicius a few years back with similarly grim looks from Messrs Benzema, Modric and Kroos. Not now.

A hardened all-in competitor like Lewandowski – in his time a Treble winner with Bayern – knows that one or two soldiers don’t win a big battle. It’s not just about him and Dembele making Barcelona great.

Still, the fight pitting him and Dembele against Benzema and Vinicius will go a very long way to determine if Los Blancos or Los Blaugrana Dominate Spain and successfully compete with the best in Europe.

Lewandowski has previously told ESPN: “Karim is a fantastic player who has just had a brilliant Champions League season. I don’t want to compare myself to him… He’s been in LaLiga for many years – it will be a new challenge for me.

“Benzema has shown how good he is but it’s more important how we play at Barcelona, ​​what we achieve and it’s more important that we win every game.”

So that we understand each other. This isn’t a relationship breakdown in the spotlight — it’s not a crisis. But it’s a problem for Barcelona that their main attacking partnership is both raw and 50% filled by a winger who isn’t a great learner.

Three factors make the problem bigger.

First of all, the Benzema-Vinicius partnership is not only much longer established than Lewandowski-Dembele – it is truly excellent.

Secondly, while the French winger didn’t mind that brain freeze against Sevilla, he could literally make a difference in the tens of millions if he reappears and is responsible for Barcelona not escaping their brutal Champions League group on Wednesday, including Bayern Munich and Inter Milan.

And finally, just for the record, not to say it’s a brutal stat, but: Lewandowski and Dembele have now played 306 competitive minutes together for Barcelona and they’ve only scored one goal.

The emphasis there is on the winger. Lewandowski is the better player, the achiever, the prolific goalscorer and he’s the guy Xavi counted on to make the difference as Barcelona seek the big trophies again. He’s made of ‘the right stuff’ and frankly Dembele isn’t.

The Frenchman’s influence at Barcelona is huge – he made 13 assists in total last season and Xavi is an evangelical believer but… when Dembele was a free agent this summer and Barca couldn’t afford to renew him, no other major team viewed him as a world-class player who could be snapped up on favorable financial terms.

Had Vinicius been off contract for the past two months, it would have been the saga of the summer. Let me put some meat on the bones: the Brazilian, who just turned 22, provided Madrid 22 goals and 20 assists in 52 games in all competitions last season.

Dembele? Technically in his prime, at the age of 25, Xavi spluttered with joy and was determined to keep him based on last season’s stats: 32 games, two goals, 13 assists.

There are reasons. Dembele occasionally erupts with a touch of genius, yes. Reliability when it comes to doing the right thing, but sometimes also the most important thing, as Lewandowski discovered on Saturday evening? Absolutely not.

This French puzzle shares some traits with Vinicius – even one in which he is significantly stronger. Each is blessed not only with great pace, but also with a frightening ability to dribble past rivals at high speed.

The two men ensure that an opponent who plays a high defensive line is guaranteed to have a nervous night, as Vinicius and Dembele can be played up by teammates and make any space between a goalkeeper and his defensive line look naïve, bordering on insane.

And if this were Top Trumps’ deck, the strength Dembele easily outperforms Vinicius at is that he’s truly two-footed.

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Robert Lewandowski shows incredible skill to give Barcelona a 3-0 lead over Real Valladolid.

But not only is Vinicius better overall, he’s also a listener and learner despite his junior status. His biggest teacher wasn’t Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, not Luka Modric – it’s Benzema.

Vinicius previously explained: “I’ve never played with a striker at Karim’s level. From the start I gave him space to play and he does the same with me. We tried to perfect that relationship – so I could.” help more, score more and help the team more.

“I’ve always had confidence but when you start scoring goals and assisting more you become more important to the team and of course confidence increases.”

Those are exactly the things Lewandowski, even more so than Xavi, needs to install in Dembele’s brain if they want to close the gap on Real as a duo.

The only assist Barcelona’s No.7 gave his striker was a gem. Right footed dribble, left footed pass, Lewandowski sprints onto the opener and conjures a heel goal for a 3-0 and game-over against Valladolid last week at the Camp Nou.

Just as interesting, while Lewandowski was celebrating surrounded by teammates, was very clear telling Jules Kounde how and when the ball was to be passed to him. Next week? Kounde assist, Lewandowski goal. Those who listen benefit. Will Dembele be one of them?

At the moment, Camp Nou’s King Robert likes to make positive noises about his winger’s potential.

The Barcelona forward told ESPN: “Ousmane is a fantastic player with top qualities. I hope he stays fit throughout the season. When Dembele is as focused on the game as he is now, he can score a lot of goals and provide a lot of helps.

“On the pitch, I want to guide my teammates with my body language, show them that no matter how many goals we’ve scored, we can always do more.

“Always think positive, always play forward. Always work hard. That’s what I want.”

For Dembele, the school is in session. Every day must be a learning day. Or Professor Lewandowski’s body language and vocabulary will change radically. Watch this room.

https://www.espn.com/soccer/barcelona-espbarcelona/story/4739203/robert-lewandowskis-task-at-barcelona-push-ousmane-dembelejust-as-karim-benzema-did-with-vinicius-jr-at-real-madrid Push Dembele, like Benzema did with Vinicius Jr. in Madrid

Emma Bowman

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