At the end of Barcelona’s last triumphant visit to the Santiago Bernabeu in March, Ousmane Dembele must have felt like he was walking on clouds; the world at his feet. By comparison, Vinicius Jr. could have been forgiven for moaning, that he’d just suffered a sap, that life had just thrown him off course in a rather brutal way.
Given that the two wingers are likely to be key to their respective teams El Classico Back at Real Madrid’s majestic stadium this weekend, it’s worth considering their reactions to that remarkable 4-0 win at Barcelona, how they played, developed and processed the impact of such a dramatic night in the world’s biggest game of football.
Back in March, when Barcelona were trying to stage an unlikely late-stage title boost and were looking good to beat struggling Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League quarter-finals, Dembele was in brilliant form and a crucial factor against him Los Blancos. Two assists to stop the game, thanks to crosses headed home by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ronald Araujo, and a good role in the third goal meant Xavi’s repeated, brave but somewhat surprising, blind faith in the France international was repaid became.
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Vincius, once clean through Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s goal and generally one of Madrid’s livelier players, had braced himself to play against Barcelona – which he did six months earlier in a 2-1 win at the Camp Nou torn to pieces – – with two goals and four assists in Madrid’s last five LaLiga games.
Now begin the stark comparisons from then to now – with Vinicius stellar, growing in authority and self-assurance; Dembele looks predictable, sloppy and gives away the ball so often it almost becomes a liability. The World Cup-winning Frenchman added just two assists and two goals in Barcelona’s remaining 11 games – losing to Frankfurt and watching the 12-point gap between Xavi’s team and Los Blancos This night in March extends until 1 p.m. when the season ends. Deeply overwhelming.
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Vinicius? The then 21-year-old (four years separate these two spirited, entertaining but very different wingers) showed he had ‘the right stuff’. As Madrid rose to become just their second LaLiga and Champions League double in 64 years, the lad from Sao Goncalo, near Rio de Janeiro, scored or created a further 11 goals thereafter classic Debacles – including the winner against Liverpool in the Champions League final.
This season, Dembele was fluttering back into form with two assists and two goals until a month ago. Capping for France, he played 12 minutes, developed a slight muscle strain and meanwhile his wife gave birth to their first child. Since then, its form has evaporated. In addition, he has only prepared one goal for striker Robert Lewandowski all season so far. What should have been a fruitful, potentially trophy-winning partnership is currently dry.
Back to Madrid’s man of the hour. In a situation where midfielder Casemiro has left, striker Karim Benzema has only played twice in five weeks, the team can’t stop conceding domestically and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has been sidelined out of the blue with back pain, a lot of responsibility rests on those fantastic rising superstar.
In response to the call, Vinicius has scored or assisted in all but two of Madrid’s 12 games this season. If you want to add up the above facts and stats, there’s evidence that Dembele isn’t in the right form to either make an impact on either Madrid full-back Dani Carvajal or Ferland Mendy – or tear them up classic towards Barcelona.
Proof of this is also that Vinicius without the presence of the injured Araujo, with whom Xavi man-marked the Brazilian in the last 180 minutes classic Football in which Madrid have yet to score could arguably get going now and put in a performance to beat Man of the Match Barcelona. But that’s not necessarily my main point.
When comparing the two, it’s important to see how representative each player is of the current state of their respective club. Especially Dembele. Xavi was without question a player whose vision, talent, determination, daring and technical ability skyrocketed when coupled with a clever, organized and intelligent system. But his team is playing football at the moment, which looks without a system. It’s a collection of good players, some excellent, where the ball is thrown forward in hopes that one of the special players will do something special.
Barcelona have not been successful in producing quality possession football for weeks and certainly don’t play the kind of positional football that Pep Guardiola introduced at the Camp Nou and that Xavi has spent most of his almost year-long tenure trying to teach the current students .
Dembele plays a key role in this. From the moment he arrived to this day there has been no doubt about his talent, his speed, his two-footed dribbles and shots on target, or how he can either shoot from a standing start at breathtaking speed with the ball at his feet or run away can break out, gliding past defenders as if they weren’t there. But are you asking him to be consistent? To do it game by game? To top it all off with a constant supply of goals? be ruthless? Taking responsibility for killer goals when the rest of the team is suffering? Even ask him to explain what’s on his mind as he tries to trick or cut the third or fourth rival when one or two at most would have been the most effective option? Well, get in line.
Almost all of Dembele’s coaches, most of the fans and most of the media have been confused and frustrated as to why he isn’t developing or improving. The Frenchman recently told the Catalan media: “I’m left-handed but I play with both feet. These days I prefer to lead with my left and shoot with my right.
“Xavi likes it when his wingers are very open and take on rivals one-on-one. Apart from Thomas Tuchel [at Dortmund], Xavi is the only other coach I’ve had such a close relationship with. They are both completely open and honest with you. I never question Xavi’s opinion of me. He tells me directly if he thinks I need to work on something and is very clear in his feedback on my fitness and whether he will put me in the starting XI. He supports me enormously.
“He’s really tough on us in training and doesn’t hold back when he thinks it’s not good enough. He talks a lot about how important it is to work hard not only on the pitch but also off it and he told me that if I want to be the best I have to score more goals, provide assists, have a strong mental Keep your attitude and be absolutely focused. He saw from the start that he wanted me to do more for the team, to be a more complete player.”
Vinícius Júnior starts with a long goal for Real Madrid
Whether it’s a physical slump, a loss of confidence or just a tired young man suffering the effects of having a first newborn child around the house and sleep being a vanishing commodity, Dembele has regressed. Poorly. And like Xavi’s team, he has no exceptional, rigorous habits to fall back on.
When Dembele is out of form there is nothing left but to wait for him to click again. It’s not healthy for Barca. The team around him, once steely, entertaining and formidable because it repeatedly stuck to certain challenging and important game principles until the opponent could no longer keep up, now produces ragged, make-up-as-we-go in football, when their superstars are out of shape.
Vinicius is a very different case study. Upon arrival and in his first few months, he was fierce, fun, blessed with some exceptional and rare abilities – but not well-organized mentally, nor comfortable with the range of team duties expected of a left-forward in a 4-3 -3 team full of hard-nosed world-class winners.
The contrast with Dembele is that Vinicius learned. The Brazilian listened, he adapted, he worked harder, he applied the lessons from training, from Luka Modric, from Benzema, from Casemiro. Vinicius’ game hasn’t lost any of that intuitive, fast-paced, split-second technical beauty, but he uses all of that to make those around him better and help the team win.
It was wonderful to watch and frankly, Xavi could do a lot worse than give poor old Dembele DVDs of Vinicius. one way classic would be a perfect time for the Frenchman to wake up again and dazzle the watching world. But at this distance it looks like Vinicius will be richly rewarded for the way he has been able to combine talent, great sporting speed, learning and personal development for the benefit of Real Madrid. Sunday could be Vinicius’ day.
https://www.espn.com/soccer/spanish-laliga/story/4766837/vinicius-vs-dembele-key-in-real-madrid-barcelona-el-clasico Vinicius vs Dembele key in Real Madrid, Barcelona El Clasico