BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Vinícius Júnior will get another shot at trying to get past Barcelona defender Ronald Araújo on Sunday in the latest “clasico” that will impact the Spanish league title race.
The last time they met just two weeks ago, Araújo got the better of the Real Madrid forward and was key in Barcelona earning a gritty 1-0 win at the Santiago Bernabeu in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals.
Barcelona coach Xavi Hernández is hoping for another strong performance at Camp Nou from his versatile defender, who can play at center back or line up on the right side of the defense against Vinícius.
“Araújo is big, very strong, and he likes defending. He is a leader, takes on responsibility, wins one-on-one situations. He is a world-class defender,” Xavi said. “When he has had to face off with Vinícius, he has come out on top. But Vinícius decides games. I like him a lot as a player, and we will have to keep an eye on him.”
Over the last two seasons Vinícius has established himself as the perfect strike partner for Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema. Fast and unpredictable, the 22-year-old Vinícius leads the league in successful dribbles to get past opponents with 77. Athletic Bilbao's Nico Williams is next with 54.
Vinícius and Benzema have both scored 19 goals in all competitions this season for a Madrid side in the hunt to also keep its Champions League title. The Brazilian set up Benzema’s goal in the 1-0 win over Liverpool as Madrid sealed its aggregate 6-2 win to reach the quarterfinals.
But where most defenders have failed, Araújo has had success.
The Uruguay defender kept Vinícius under control in two wins over Madrid this year, including stopping Vinícius from scoring in a 3-1 win in the Spanish Super Cup final in January.
When Araújo was unavailable due to injury in October, Madrid beat Barcelona 3-1 in their first league meeting of the season.
Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti acknowledged that his talented winger has had “difficulties,” but said that he would once again keep him on the left side of the attack --- where Araújo will surely be waiting.
“Vinícius is always Vinícius. His mobility always helps us a lot,” Ancelotti said.
Barcelona leads the league by nine points over Madrid. A win would put it on the brink of its first league title since 2019 and its first major title since Lionel Messi left the club in 2021.
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