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Raphinha: Barcelona’s underappreciated creative powerhouse

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Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

At Barcelona, the passage of time generally tends to devalue the excitement around new arrivals, who once captivated fans with their promise and potential.

After the honeymoon period of the opening few months wears off, expectations seem to unjustly escalate to an unreasonable extent.

The sentiment is perhaps best illustrated in the case of Raphinha. As Cules continue to open up to the possibility of bidding him goodbye, despite initially welcoming him with open arms, the shimmer that once adorned the Brazilian winger has similarly grown faint.

Barcelona’s fickle financial state and need to muster up funds only add to the growing detachment with Raphinha, who already has significant interest from Saudi Arabia.

While there may be some truth to the fact that Raphinha’s sale would indirectly aid Barcelona economically, there are several aspects to his gameplay that warrant more faith.

Indeed, diving deeper into the 27-year-old’s multifaceted skillset, there is enough reason to believe fans have often overlooked what Raphinha brings to the table.

Creating threat amidst the chaos

Raphinha amassed 10 goals and 12 assists in his debut season with the Catalans, finishing the year with the second-highest G/A on the squad, trailing only Robert Lewandowski.

While during the current campaign his numbers have taken a slight nosedive, with a total of 15 goal contributions (5 goals, 10 assists), the underlying data suggests his productivity is largely swept under the rug.

Indeed, in La Liga this season, Raphinha is registering more than two and a half key passes per 90 (2.90), placing him higher than the likes of Bukayo Saka (2.71) and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia (2.22), who are two of Europe’s most prized creative wingers.

(Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

In fact, when factoring in the metrics of key passes and shot-creating actions per 90, Raphinha is only bested by Jack Grealish and Ousmane Dembele.

Furthermore, only Michael Olise surpasses Raphinha in the frequency of successful crosses per ninety minutes, with the Brazilian most notably known for launching whipped crosses from the right half-space with surgical precision.

As such, Raphinha’s occasional inability to appeal as an aesthetic winger must not overshadow the fact that he is a class apart when tasked with splitting defenses open.

Contextualizing his output

As highlighted above, Raphinha’s overall production in goals and assists has experienced a decline this season.

And looking at his two-year spell at Barcelona, his total G/A tally of 29 (La Liga and Champions League) lags behind several other elite wingers.

However, analyzing his performance with respect to the minutes he played and considering the broader context, can give a deeper comprehension of his contributions.

In the South American’s initial season, he was directly competing with Ousmane Dembele for a spot in the right-wing position, naturally meaning minutes were not always easy to come by.

It was only after the Frenchman got injured at the turn of the year that Raphinha acquired regular game time, which led to an explosion in his output.

Now, this season, Raphinha has largely suffered from injury and, consequently, a reduced opportunity to increase his contributions in the final third.

Thus to account for these factors, the metric of non-penalty goal involvements per 90 and goal-creating actions per 90 allows for a fairer picture to be painted.

Upon investigation, the 27-year-old is only trumped by a handful of players such as Mathys Tel, Diogo Jota, Mohamed Salah, Vinicius Junior, and Phil Foden.

raphinha atletico madrid
Raphinha was key against Atletico Madrid. (Photo by THOMAS COEX/AFP via Getty Images)

Over the course of the ongoing campaign, Raphinha has chimed in with contributions in important encounters, having most recently notched back-to-back assists against Napoli and Atletico Madrid.

It is hardly a bolt from the blue that the Brazilian winger’s return as well as his upturn in form coincide with Barcelona’s dominance.

Other overlooked aspects

One of the biggest complaints against Raphinha is his predictability in one-versus-one scenarios, as he can often find it difficult to take on a tricky full-back.

But once again, it is important to apply context. Despite it being against his nature to operate in isolation and play in a rigid system without the freedom to invert, Raphinha does not let Barcelona’s system prevent him from dishing out quality numbers.

As a matter of fact, he surprisingly completes more dribbles per 90 than the likes of Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, and Moussa Diaby.

Moreover, Barcelona have on many occasions reaped the benefits of Raphinha’s hard-working attitude off the ball.

In a system that can often be exposed to structural discord, the former Leeds man presses his lungs out to win the ball back.

Specifically, against Napoli in the second leg, Raphinha made up for Joao Cancelo’s offensive nature on the left flank by frequently tracking back.

Final thoughts

Since arriving at Barcelona, fluctuations in Raphinha’s ability to rattle the back of the net or simply take men on have remained a talking point, but the one certainty he offers in every game is creating danger with his diverse range of passes.

(Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images)

Raphinha has the tendency to frustrate onlookers with rushed actions or cheap dispossessions, but creative players are generally handed the license to opt for the extraordinary.

And Barcelona have an elite creator in Raphinha, who can change the course of the game with his highly diverse passing range.

In short, data suggests an important, but overlooked fact: Raphinha is Barcelona’s underappreciated creative powerhouse.

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