Over the past few months, Barcelona have been feverishly trying to cut tens of millions of euros from their players’ wage bill. But if Robert Lewandowski can triumph in the hidden task he now knows lies ahead of him, LaLiga club president Joan Laporta should immediately double the Polish striker’s salary.
As long as Lewandowski and Karim Benzema stay fit, this season will be a thrilling, high-stakes battle between them to score enough goals to propel their respective teams to trophies.
Real Madrid man Benzema obviously has a significant advantage in that over the past few seasons he has broken away from Vinicius Junior as his brilliant and increasingly inspiring strike partner. Last season, the Franco-Brazilian duo shared a total of 111 goals and assists for Los Blancos while conquering Spain and Europe. Devastating.
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And while the former Bayern Munich man has already discovered that Pedri, Ansu Fati and Raphinha have an innate understanding of his movement in the penalty box, the guy who holds the strongest profile as Lewandowski’s ‘Vinicius’ is Ousmane Dembele, sometimes brilliant but perpetually frustrating. These two men, although both have a history at Borussia Dortmund, are in a rookie partnership.
Lewandowski is not renowned for his patience with second-class work, and while his tolerance has yet to be destroyed, not by a long shot, Saturday’s win at Sevilla showed the scale of the work ahead of him. Barcelona, who had appeared to concede two or three in the first 20 minutes, led 2-0 thanks to Raphinha and Lewandowski’s fifth goal in four matches.
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Sevilla’s corner just before half-time flew towards the back post, where Pedri robbed it knowing the home side had just two defenders back and Dembele was hiding halfway on. field. A visionary and improvised pass. The Frenchman set off like a supercharged Road Runner. His marker, Gonzalo Montiel, had a petrified expression on his face.
Only two men properly chased Dembele’s breakaway: Sevilla’s Joan Jordan and 35-year-old Lewandowski. As Jordan gradually started to look like he was wading through wet cement, Lewandowski lit up which meant Barcelona suddenly had a brilliant two-man opportunity to kill off Julen Lopetegui’s side just before the break.
All it took was for Dembele to show a killer mentality as he played the incredibly obvious pass to his strike partner of 565 career goals. Whether or not you watched the incident, you will have guessed by now that Dembele did the self-indulgent, brainless thing: he ignored his team-mate and compounded the madness by taking a tight angled shot over the bar .
What followed was comical – unless of course you were Lewandowski or Barcelona manager Xavi Hernandez. Dembele momentarily held his hands to his head, didn’t apologize to his astonished teammate, then walked back onto the pitch as if, Hey ho! Not serious !
The veteran Polish goalscorer stood still, lungs swollen, hands on his knees, staring at the Frenchman, his mouth hanging open with a stunned expression that read: What the hell did I witness? ! Why the hell did I sprint 70 meters?
This is precisely the kind of thing you might have seen Vinicius doing to the equally grim expressions of MM. Benzema, Modric and Kroos a few years ago. Not now.
Robert Lewandowski and Ousmane Dembele’s on-pitch relationship could determine how well the striker can challenge Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema to be LaLiga’s top scorer. David Ramos/Getty Images
A hardened competitor like Lewandowski – a treble winner with Bayern in his day – knows that a great battle isn’t won by one or two soldiers. It’s not just him and Dembele who make Barcelona great.
Nonetheless, the contest pitting him and Dembele against Benzema and Vinicius will go a long way in determining whether Los Blancos Where Los Blaugrana dominate Spain and compete successfully with the best in Europe.
Lewandowski previously explained to ESPN: “Karim is a fantastic player, who has just had a brilliant season in the Champions League. I wouldn’t compare myself to him… He’s been in La Liga for many years – it will be a new one. challenge for me.
“Benzema has proven 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.”
Let’s be clear. It’s not a breakup 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% made up of a winger who isn’t a great learner.
Karim Benzema, left, and Vinicius Junior celebrate Real Madrid’s victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League last season. Diego Souto/Quality Sports Images/Getty Images
Three factors make the problem worse.
Firstly, the Benzema-Vinicius partnership isn’t just established much longer than Lewandowski-Dembele – it’s really excellent.
Second, while that French winger’s brain freeze counted for nothing against Sevilla, it could, literally, make a difference of tens of millions if it happens again and is responsible for Barcelona not getting away with it. to his brutal Champions League group kick-off. Wednesday, which includes Bayern Munich and Inter Milan.
And finally, just for the record, not pretending that’s a brutal stat, but: Lewandowski and Dembele have now played 306 competitive minutes together for Barcelona and they’ve only combined for one goal.
The focus here is on the winger. Lewandowski is the best player, the most successful, the prolific goalscorer, and he’s the guy Xavi has banked on to make the difference as Barcelona once again strive to win the big trophies. He’s made of ‘good stuff’ and Dembele, frankly, isn’t.
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The Frenchman’s impact on Barcelona is high – he provided a total of 13 assists 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 saw him as a world-class player to recruit on favorable financial terms.
If Vinicius had been out of contract for the past two months, it would have been the saga of the summer. Allow me to put some meat on the bones: the Brazilian, who just turned 22 last season in 52 appearances in all competitions, gave Madrid 22 goals and 20 assists.
Dembele? Theoretically at his peak, aged 25, he left Xavi delirious with joy and determined to keep him because of the statistics that indicated last season: 32 games, two goals, 13 assists.
There are reasons. Dembele sometimes bursts with touches of genius, yes. Reliability when it comes to doing the right thing, sometimes even the most basic thing, however, as Lewandowski discovered on Saturday night? Absolutely not.
This French enigma shares some traits with Vinicius – even one where he’s noticeably stronger. Each is blessed with not only magnificent pace, but also a fearsome ability to dribble past rivals at high speed.
Both men ensure that if an opposing team play a high defensive line they are guaranteed a nervy night as Vinicius and Dembele can be played by team-mates and give any space between a goalkeeper and his line of defends a naive air, bordering on delusional.
And if this were the Top Trumps card game, the strength with which Dembele clearly overtakes Vinicius is that he truly has two feet.
play0:59Lewandowski scores an awesome backheel goal for Barcelona
Robert Lewandowski showed incredible skill to give Barcelona a 3-0 lead against Real Valladolid.
But not only is Vinicius better overall, despite his junior status, he’s a listener and a learner. His biggest mentor wasn’t Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti, or Luka Modric – it was Benzema.
Vinicius previously explained: “I’ve never played with a striker at Karim’s level. From the start, I’ve won space for him to play and he does the same to me. We tried to perfect that relationship – so that I can help more, score more and help the team more.
“I’ve always had confidence, but when you start scoring and assisting more, you become more important to the team and of course the confidence increases.”
These are precisely the things that Lewandowski, even more than Xavi, needs to plant in Dembele’s brain if they, as a duo, are to close the competitive gap on Madrid.
Robert Lewandowski joined Barcelona this summer after spending eight years and winning 19 trophies at Bayern Munich. Str/Xinhua via Getty Images
The lone assist the Barcelona No.7 provided to his strike leader was a bit of a gem. Right-footed dribble, left-footed pass, Lewandowski sprinting over the opener and conjuring up a backheel goal for 3-0 and a game against Valladolid at Camp Nou last week.
What was about as interesting was that while Lewandowski was celebrating, mobbed by his teammates, he was making it very clear to Jules Kounde how and when he wanted the ball sent to him. Next week? Assist by Koundé, goal by Lewandowski. Those who listen benefit. Will Dembele be part of it?
At the moment, Camp Nou’s King Robert is happy to make positive noises about his winger’s potential.
The Barcelona striker told ESPN: “Ousmane is a fantastic player with top quality. I hope he stays fit all season. If Dembele is focused on the game like he is now, he can score a lot of goals and provide a lot of assists.
“On the pitch, I want to lead my team-mates with my body language, show them that no matter how many goals we have scored, we can always score more.
“Always think positive, always play forward. Always work hard. That’s what I want.”
For Dembele, school is in session. Every day should be a learning day. Or else Professor Lewandowski’s body language and vocabulary will change – drastically. Watch this place.