Roque came off the bench in the 78th minute of Barca’s 2-1 win in the Canary Islands (Getty Images)
18-year-old sensation Vitor Roque made his long-awaited Barcelona debut last week, coming off the bench in the second half of the Blaugrana’s 2-1 league win over Las Palmas. Xavi looked to the Brazilian striker to find a late winner, a task to which Roque took on with dogged enthusiasm, looking threatening on several occasions and contributing in the build up that led to İlkay Gündoğan’s winner from the penalty spot.
For Roque, his Barça debut signals the start of a new chapter that puts him one step closer to fulfilling his lifelong dream of winning the Champions League. For Culers, the arrival of Tigrinho soothes the pain of missing out on Endrick, and give them years of head-to-head battles to look forward to à la Messi and Ronaldo. For Xavi, Roque provides an injection of pace and ferocity currently missing from a squad ravaged by injuries.
For the struggling Robert Lewandowski, however, Roque’s arrival in Catalonia spells trouble, and potentially signals the beginning of the end of the Pole’s illustrious career.
Trouble in paradise
On the surface, Barcelona do not appear to be in any sort of disastrous situation. Fresh of their 27th La Liga title, Barça are third in La Liga and have qualified for the Champions League knockout stages after two years of crashing out of the group stages and then the Europa league.
Yet, their recent results are cause for concern. The Blaugrana haven’t won convincingly since mid-September and have looked uncharacteristically apathetic in recent weeks. While their defense has already conceded more league goals (22) than they did all of last season (20), Barça still boast the sixth-best defense in the league in terms of goals allowed, and have conceded the second-fewest shots per game (10.6).
Barça’s attack is far more concerning for Xavi. Through 19 games, his side have scored fewer goals (36) compared to this stage last season (42), resulting in fewer points and the title race slowly slipping from their grasp.
Lewandowski is symbolic of this decline.
Struggling for goals
The 35-year-old’s poor form at the tail end of last season was no fluke. Lewandowski has scored only eight times in La Liga this season, underperforming his xG of 12.14 more than any player in Europe’s top leagues (-4.14) outside Iago Aspas (-5.18). 😬
As Barça’s only out-and-out striker, his poor goalscoring form is hugely detrimental to the team:
Barcelona underperformed their xG by nearly eight goals this season (36 goals scored and 43.9 xG), the second worst of any team in La Liga.
They have missed more big chances (45) than any other team in Europe’s top leagues this season.
This trend extrapolates to the end of last season, when Lewandowski’s poor goalscoring form was covered up by a record-breaking defense.
Lewandowski’s spark in front of goal isn’t the only thing to wane. His first touch this season is harsher than that of my former youth pastor, who – unlike Lewa – at least still showed some desire to touch balls and get physical in the box. Lewandowski can no longer be arsed to press, and his poor body language and lack of intensity is beginning to cause a rift in the squad.
He was blasted by the Spanish media for his treatment of 16-year-old Lamine Yamal, whom Lewandowski reproached after the La Masia product didn’t pass him the ball.
Lewandowski’s goalscoring woes, lack of intensity, and overall demeanor are exactly why the club signed Roque for €40 million from Paranaense in July, and were so desperate to expedite his arrival after originally agreeing he wouldn’t join the club until the summer of 2024.
How does Roque fit in?
Heralded as the second-coming of Sergio Agüero, Roque isn’t the most physically imposing striker, but what he lacks in size he more than makes up for in intensity, technical ability, and eye for goal.
Although he’s nicknamed “Little Tiger,” think of him more like a Jack Russell Terrier: quick, tenacious, determined, and capable of delivering a hell of a bite when need be (I got bit by a Jack Russell when I was younger and let me tell you those little guys pack a punch). 🐕
Tigrinho paying homage to his dad, who was nicknamed “Tigaro” (“Big Tiger”)
These attributes make Roque capable of playing anywhere across the front line, which he’ll likely have to do as he jostles for minutes in a deep Barça squad.
Fed up with Lewandowski, many Culers are wanting to see more of Roque now, but Xavi is taking a more sensible approach. The Spainard believes that Roque can benefit from Lewandowski’s tutelage, and is confident the two can coexist, but concedes it won’t happen overnight.
“He’s still only 18, so we can't burden him with responsibility now because he needs time to adapt.”
Roque made his second appearance in blue and garnet on Sunday, coming off the bench in the 64th minute in a 3-2 win over Barbastro in the Copa Del Rey. Lewandowski played alongside him, and – while narrowly beating a fourth-tier side would normally be cause for concern – Barcelona players left the pitch with smiles on their face, knowing the future is bright with Tigrinho in the fold.