Ousmane Dembele must have felt like he was walking on air by the end of Barcelona’s final triumphant trip to the Santiago Bernabeu in March, with the world at his feet. In contrast, Vinicius Jr. could have been excused for whining that life had just dealt him a nasty sucker punch and had thrown him off course.
The two wingers will likely be crucial for their respective teams when El Clasico returns to Real Madrid’s magnificent stadium this weekend, so it’s important to examine how they responded to Barcelona’s incredible 4-0 victory and how they played, developed, and dealt with the aftermath of such a thrilling night in the world’s greatest football match.
Dembele was in outstanding form and crucial against Los Blancos back in March when Barcelona was trying to mount an improbable late title challenge and looked good to defeat mediocre Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League quarterfinals. Xavi’s constant, bold but perhaps unexpected, blind faith in the France international was rewarded with two assists to break the game thanks to crosses that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ronald Araujo headed home. Additionally, the France international had a good role in the third goal.
With two goals and four assists in Madrid’s previous five LaLiga games, Vinicius had prepared to play Barcelona, whom he had destroyed in a 2-1 victory at Camp Nou six months prior. Vinicius was also generally one of Madrid’s livelier players. He was clean through on Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s goal at one point.
The comparisons between then and now are stark: Vinicius is excellent, gaining confidence and authority; Dembele is predictable, sloppy, and gives the ball away so frequently that he’s on the verge of being a burden. Following his World Cup victory, the Frenchman only contributed two assists and two goals in Barcelona’s final 11 games, losing to Frankfurt and seeing the 12-point deficit between Xavi’s club and Los Blancos that March night grow to 13 points by the time the season was over. Very disappointing.
Vinicius? The then-21-year-old demonstrated that he is made of the “right stuff”. The young man from Sao Goncalo near Rio de Janeiro scored or assisted on 11 goals after the disastrous Clasico, including the winning goal against Liverpool in the Champions League final, as Madrid stormed to just their second LaLiga and Champions League double in 64 years.
Dembele returned to form this season with two assists and two goals up till a month ago. He played 12 minutes while on international service for France, suffered a little muscle overload, and in the interim, his wife gave birth to their first child. Since then, his physical form has vanished. Additionally, he has only assisted Robert Lewandowski on one goal so far this season. What ought to have been a fruitful, perhaps trophy-winning partnership is now parched.
Let’s get back to Madrid’s star player. There is a lot of pressure on this amazing up-and-coming superstar since Casemiro has left the squad, Karim Benzema has only appeared twice in five weeks, the team keeps giving up goals at home, and Thibaut Courtois has unexpectedly been sidelined with back trouble.
Vinicius has answered the challenge by scoring or providing an assist in all but two of Madrid’s 12 games this season. If you add together the aforementioned statistics and facts, there is proof that Dembele isn’t in the best shape to have an impact on either Madrid full-backs Ferland Mendy or Dani Carvajal or to turn the Clasico in Barcelona’s favor.
It’s critical to consider how each player represents the current situation of their respective clubs when comparing the two. especially Dembele. Without a doubt, Xavi was a player whose acumen, intelligence, tenacity, bravery, and technical prowess soared when combined with a shrewd, well-organized, and intelligent system. However, his team is currently playing football which appears to be unorganized. The ball is moved forward in the hopes that one of the special players would make a special play among a group of competent players, some of whom are excellent.
In addition to not playing the positional game that Pep Guardiola introduced at Camp Nou and that Xavi has spent most of his nearly one year in charge of trying to teach the present students, Barcelona has struggled for weeks to produce high-quality possession football.
Dembele is important here. No one has ever questioned his talent, speed, two-footed dribbling, shooting, or ability to either sprint from a standing start to an astonishing pace with the ball in his hands or run by defenders as if they weren’t there. However, there must be a focus on his consistency, the part where he lacks sometimes.
Dembele has regressed right now, whether it’s due to a physical decline, a loss of confidence, or simply being a worn-out young guy dealing with the effects of having a first-born child in the house and sleep being a diminishing commodity. Badly. Additionally, he lacks remarkable, strict routines to fall back on, much like Xavi’s team.
There is nothing to do but wait for Dembele to get back on track if he is out of sorts. It’s not good for Barcelona. If their key players are out of shape, the team around him produces ragged, make-it-up-as-we-go-along football instead of the steely, exciting, and formidable game they formerly did by repeatedly adhering to some demanding and important playing principles until the opponent could not keep up.
A very distinct case study is Vinicius. He was wild, entertaining, and endowed with some exceptional and rare abilities when he first arrived, and for the first few months after that. However, he was neither mentally stable nor at ease performing the range of team duties required of a left-sided striker in a 4-3-3 team full of elite, competitive winners.
Dembele and Vinicius are in opposition, as Vinicius discovered. The Brazilian paid attention, took in, worked harder, and put the skills he had learned from Casemiro, Luka Modric, and Karim Benzema into practice. The intuitive, high-speed, split-second technical beauty of Vinicius’ game hasn’t diminished at all, but he has channeled it all to improve those around him and ensure the team’s success.
In all honesty, Xavi could do much worse than to give old Dembele DVDs of Vinicius after watching how amazing it has been to watch. An away Clasico would be the ideal opportunity for the Frenchman to reawaken and dazzle the viewing audience. But from this vantage point, it appears as though Vinicius will be amply rewarded for his ability to combine talent, exceptional athleticism, learning, and personal growth for the benefit of Real Madrid. Vinicius’ day can very well be Sunday.