Barca hoping for Dembele spark in Real Valladolid clash

GERMAN PRESS AGENCY - DPA
BARCELONA
Published 15.02.2019 00:05

After three consecutive draws Ousmane Dembele's return should give La Liga leader Barcelona the spark it lacked as it faces Real Valladolid, while second place Real Madrid hosts Girona on Sunday

It speaks volumes about Ousmane Dembele's improvement this season that Barcelona are desperate for his return.

The French winger appeared as a substitute in a brief cameo against Athletic Bilbao last weekend, but is ready to start against Real Valladolid on Saturday after recovering from an ankle sprain.

After a troubled first year at the club Dembele started the season mired in controversy over his allegedly unprofessional habits and timekeeping, but reports in Spain say the former Borussia Dortmund winger has cleaned up his act. The forward is now an essential attacking component for Ernesto Valverde on the left of the attack, with Philippe Coutinho struggling to fill the gap over the past three weeks.

Barcelona's record signing offers none of the dynamism which Dembele produces in spades and with the 21-year-old winger returning, the Brazilian is likely going to be relegated to the bench.

Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez have struggled without Dembele too and Barcelona have drawn their last three games in all competitions, although still lead the top flight by six points from Real Madrid.

The skill and speed of the Frenchman is a potent weapon for Barcelona which helps disrupt opponents and create space for his South American strike partners.

The only thing between Barcelona and a defeat at the San Mames last Sunday was goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who made two sublime saves in a 0-0 draw.

The German stopper hinted Barcelona's recent struggles have been influenced by a busy fixture list, but with no match mid-week, the Catalans will be well rested for Saturday. "Maybe there's an element of tiredness because of the schedule," said Ter Stegen. "February's a loaded month. I think everyone's happy that we can now rest for one or two days." "After that little break, we can come back and look at what went wrong and where we need to improve," he added.

By contrast, Barcelona's rivals Real Madrid are hitting form at exactly the right time and are high on morale after beating Ajax in the Champions League last 16 first leg on Wednesday in Amsterdam.

Madrid host Girona on Sunday and winger Marco Asensio might be rewarded for his winning goal against the Dutch side with a start by coach Santiago Solari. "I'm really happy with the goal and Asensio's performance," said the Madrid coach. "We've had four games since he's returned from injury, he's played in three of them and tonight he performed as he has to from the moment he came on." "Not only in terms of his goal but because of the way he ran at them, kept the ball, defended and was brave enough to get on the end of the cross to score," he further said.

Raphael Varane and Marcos Llorente are doubts for the match, while midfielder Luka Modric is suspended.

Elsewhere, third-place Atletico travel across town for a derby clash with Rayo Vallecano as they look to keep pace with the top two.

The hosts are looking to bounce back after two consecutive defeats ended a run of five unbeaten, taking them to 18th, one point from safety.

Atletico have lost their last two league games too, including a painful 3-1 derby defeat by Real Madrid last weekend.

The weekend's other fixtures are Eibar vs. Getafe, Celta Vigo vs. Levante, Real Sociedad vs. Leganes, Valencia vs. Espanyol, Villarreal vs. Sevilla, Real Betis vs. Alaves and Huesca vs. Athletic Bilbao.

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