Lofty labels like ‘the new Xavi’ can weigh heavily on the shoulders of a young player trying to force his way into one of the world’s most efficient, established midfields.
Not so for emerging Barcelona star Arthur, who is growing into the comparison with the understated efficiency mirrored in his fuss free rise to prominence at the Catalan club.
Plucked from Gremio’s Copa Libertadores-winning 2017 team, Arthur has won admirers for his quick adaptation to the club’s ball-first philosophy, his link-up play with Messi and his dogged determination to win back the ball. He looks to expose the spaces in behind the opposition defensive lines, backing up to provide a pivot option reminiscent of the triangular patterns used by Xavi and Iniesta to great effect in the fabled Guardiola era.
Injured throughout the club’s lean run of overly Messi-reliant recent form, news that the 22 year-old is on track to play in the weekend's El Clasico comes as welcome relief to supporters growing increasingly frustrated with the club’s stagnant midfield play.
For his part and with a Copa America looming, Arthur will be as desperate as his team-mate – the maligned Philippe Coutinho – to make a strong impression on national team boss Tite. Football rarely presents a better theatre in which to make a statement than on the Bernabeu turf during a Clasico against Real Madrid.
The diminutive Barcelona metronome isn’t the only aspiring Selecao out to press his national team claims. Opposing him on Sunday morning (AEDT) will be his countryman and rising attacking prodigy Vinicius, who, despite being four years’ Arthur’s junior, has established himself as the x-factor in a rebuilding post-Ronaldo Madrid forward line.
Beginning the season in reserves, Vinicius has forced his way into the starting team with displays increasingly reminiscent of what he was doing at Flamengo as a 16 year-old.
Fast, powerful, a skilful dribbler, with an eye for the assist, Vinicius’s stats are starting to put the likes of Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale in the shade.
He sits above the two Bs for dribbles attempted (109) and successful dribbles (49), he attempts a shot every 29 minutes – second only to Bale – and wins the ball back once every 22 minutes – putting him behind only Lucas Vazquez.
It’s no wonder AS reports that a key focus for Barca in the lead-up to the Copa del Rey semi-final second leg has been stopping the dynamic winger. The only thing missing from Vinicius’s repertoire is goals. It seems inevitable that these will soon follow.
The contrasting performance of both players will provide an intriguing subplot to one of the sport’s greatest rivalries, while serving to shine a light on the new Brazilians carving a path to prominence on the greatest stage of them all.