Raphinha inspires Barcelona and is determined to push Yamal for starting place

Vitor Roque was waiting on the sidelines ready to come on for Barcelona after 77 minutes.

Being a striker, the logical choice of player to go off was Robert Lewandowski. A like-for-like replacement.

But Raphinha looked up just in case. It was his No 11 that flashed up on the electronic board, so he was the player making way. He was naturally disappointed, having scored the opening goal against Getafe and set up Frenkie de Jong to score their third. He was in the groove and wanted to stay on.

He looked down at the pitch and then something made him look up. Applause from the fans. They were recognising the effort he had put in and the role he had played in securing a comfortable victory for their team.

With a different and happier expression, he returned the applause as he walked off, high-fiving his Brazilian team-mate Roque and receiving a warm reception from the Barcelona coaching staff.

After a difficult few months, this had been a good game — for Raphinha and the team.

In fact, this 4-0 win was one of Barcelona’s easiest games of the season. It felt like their old selves — a clean sheet, a comfortable scoreline, a home win, and a result that was never in doubt. They have been better away from Montjuic this season, while they wait for the redevelopment of Camp Nou to be completed, but for 90 minutes, they looked at home.

Much of that comfort was down to the work of Raphinha.

It has been a stop-start year for him so far. He injured his left leg in January during the Spanish Super Cup semi-final against Osasuna in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. That kept him out for a month and during that time, coach Xavi was looking at alternatives in his position on the right side of Barcelona’s attack.

He had two options: Lamine Yamal and Ferran Torres. The latter’s form has improved from last year, but Xavi still doesn’t trust him to start matches given the other players available to him. Yamal, on the other hand, clearly had the talent to step in and step up, but the technical staff have been very protective of the 16-year-old, trying not to put too much responsibility on his shoulders, or his body. Until that point, his appearances had been limited, even though he was often the best player on the pitch when he did play.

With Raphinha out, Xavi chose Yamal and the frighteningly talented young forward made the most of it. He has proved in the past months why he is a player that Barcelona should build around in the years to come. Even when Raphinha was back, Xavi was turning to Yamal for inspiration.

The Brazilian had dropped down the pecking order and was pretty much the third option on the right wing. He had watched as Yamal had excelled in his absence and with Barcelona needing to sell players in the summer, there has been plenty of talk that Raphinha may be one of those in the shop window.

He was used as a substitute in three consecutive games – against Granada, Celta Vigo and Napoli — before being given his chance on Saturday against Getafe. With a tough schedule of games on the horizon, Xavi rested Pedri and Yamal.

Raphinha took his chance. Desperate to show his worth to the team, he was outstanding in Barcelona’s easy victory. It was a big day for the Brazilian and his baby boy Gael was in attendance. The player carried Gael out onto the pitch before the match, both with their game faces on.

(David Ramos/Getty Images)

The first half was one of Barcelona’s most complete 45 minutes this season and that was in part down to Raphinha. He opened the scoring in the 20th minute with a well-taken goal after breaking the offside trap and racing on to a nice pass from Jules Kounde. It was his first league goal of 2024 and his first in all competitions since the Copa del Rey match against UD Barbastro on January 7. His team-mates knew how much it meant to him and raced over to congratulate him one by one.

Raphinha exploded with motion, dancing in front of the cameras and smiling up towards the stands.

That goal was important for him and for the team. They have gone behind in a lot of matches this season, but Raphinha’s clinical finish made sure that would not be the case this time.

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(Eric Alonso/Getty Images)

It gave Raphinha the confidence he needed to stamp his influence on the game. He had a chance to double their lead before the break and after half-time played an important role in Joao Felix’s goal. Raphinha started the play on the right-hand side before playing a pass to Andreas Christensen in space and the centre-back provided the assist for Joao Felix.

His fingerprints were all over the third goal, too — dribbling past the Getafe goalkeeper before passing the ball back for De Jong to score the 11,000th goal in the history of the club.

With 15 minutes to go, his game was up and Raphinha watched from the bench as Fermin Lopez made it 4-0. When the referee blew the final whistle, the Barcelona players were delighted by the scoreline, but there was one player who looked even happier than the rest: Raphinha.

He hugged all his team-mates and joked with Yamal for a long time. In the first game of 2023-24, Raphinha had been sent off against Getafe. On Saturday, he made amends against the same opponents.

Raphinha knows he has a battle on his hands to start ahead of the prodigy Yamal, but he sees the competition for places as a positive for himself and the team.

“I’m not worried about Lamine’s performances,” he said after the match. “For me, it’s a privilege because he’s going to be a top player, one of the best for sure. To be able to compete with him is an honour. This will make us both improve. It makes me want to develop more to see Lamine scoring, competing. I’m sure he feels the same way.”

He went home having been the star of the match.

“One of the keys was to go into space and Raphinha understood that very well,” Xavi said after the game. “He gave us a lot, we generated a lot on the flanks. He and Joao Felix are players who can help us a lot in that sense. It was a great game from both of them.”

Raphinha has returned and he wants his place back.

(Top photo: Pedro Salado/Getty Images)

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