Ernesto Valverde benched millions upon millions worth of talent and instead he went for Rafinha. Ousmane Dembélé, a record signing, and a starter earlier this season even with Lionel Messi fit, didn’t play a single minute. Neither did Malcom, the most expensive signing in this summer’s transfer window.
Barcelona had tried to sell Rafinha, coincidentally to Inter Milan, but they balked at the asking price. The Brazilian himself thought he wouldn’t get playing time and tried to get loaned to Real Betis. Barça asked them to purchase him outright, but Betis said they couldn’t afford it.
Dembélé nor Malcom got a shot even off the bench. Rafinha was replaced by Nélson Semedo, moving Sergi Roberto to right wing. And then, Philippe Coutinho made way for Munir El-Haddadi. It seems likely that Rafinha will fill in for Lionel Messi as Barcelona prepare to take on Real Madrid in el clásico.
Rafinha is not a superstar, but he played well. He’s not amazingly talented in one particular area but does many things right, and generally, seems to understand Valverde’s system well. And his good showing was rewarded by a goal that came from a fabulous Luis Suárez assist. If you watch highlights, you may have only seen the end of the move, but Rafinha actually started it in midfield by winning a duel in the center circle, bringing the ball up, spreading it out to the Uruguayan, and then making a run to find himself in a good scoring position. He was substituted off having done a good job in not just scoring, but keeping the ball moving and covering ground, as Barcelona would go onto win the match 2-0 and put themselves in a good position to win their UEFA Champions League group.
It’s clear that as things stand right now, Dembélé or Malcom are not just not starters, but also not necessarily first names off the bench. Perhaps if Valverde needs a goal, he’ll go to Dembélé’s ability to get by people and create chances, but perhaps not. Valverde saw Rafinha as his secret weapon. Now he sees him as a starter.