The January signing has had a stunning six weeks with the Blaugrana, who look to end an extended winless run against their biggest rivals
From pariah to vital component, what an incredible seven weeks it has been since Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang swapped Arsenal for life in Barcelona.
The Gabon superstar has scored seven times in 10 appearances for Xavi’s side since opening his account for the club in February, scoring a hat-trick in the Blaugrana’s 4-1 win at Valencia.
Owing to the doubts that surrounded the striker’s switch, many wondered if he was a fit for Barcas wider approach.
Perhaps this was understandable. The La Liga giants seemingly did not consider Auba a primary January target, instead initially preferring Alvaro Morata to add the necessary fire-power that was absent in their attack.
Throw in the scepticism over the forward’s suitability for Xavi’s possession-heavy system and those doubts were probably justified.
Having previously stated the ex-Arsenal man could not flourish at Camp Nou, the Barca boss may not have foreseen the ongoing relationship between the pair.
“Aubameyang will kill you in open space,” Xavi stated in 2020. “But Barcelona need players who know how to move in small spaces. It’s not easy to think of players who have adapted well to Barca. Samuel Eto’o was perfect, as is Luis Suarez right now.”
Following a strong showing in last week’s 4-0 victory over Osasuna, the club legend could not hide his satisfaction with the marksman who has taken to life in Spain like a duck to water.
“Auba has been a gift from heaven,” Xavi said after the resounding win. “He is a positive player, he has come into the dressing room very well, he adapts well to the team, he creates scoring chances, he scores, he presses, he is a privilege to train.”
Aubameyang’s last league goal took him to five in La Liga in six appearances (four starts), one more than he managed for Arsenal in 14 games. Those strikes have come from expected goals of 2.3 per FBref and just eight shots on target, pointing to its unsustainability.
Be that as it may, Cules will hope their star striker remains as sharp inside the box when they travel to their bitter rivals Real Madrid on Sunday.
El Clasico may arguably have lost some of its lustre since Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi left, but it remains the game’s greatest rivalry with supporters and neutrals ever excited about the face-off.
Sunday night could well turn into a tale of two strikers, with Real unable to call upon the injured Karim Benzema owing to the Frenchman’s calf injury, whereas Aubameyang is red-hot and could be decisive against a side he was seemingly desperate to join years back.
For an enmity so unmatched in the sport, Los Blancos’ dominance of this fixture late must hurt Cules. They have not tasted El Clasico success since March 2019, failing to beat Real in six games in all competitions, losing five on the trot.
The wider dominance held over their fierce rivals in the 21st century has diminished of late, too, with successive defeats at Santiago Bernabeu a rarity. Lose on Sunday and they would have been defeated on their last three visits to Madrid for the first time this century.
Fifteen points separate the sides in the standings with 10 games to go, so the title is obviously out of reach for Sunday’s visitors. In isolation, this encounter affects little for Carlo Ancelotti’s troops, although preventing anything resembling a statement win for Xavi’s men will be welcome.
“Winning La Liga is very difficult, even if we beat Madrid,” the Barca boss admitted last week. “They have only lost twice. They would have to drop points four times, so we cant be too optimistic.”
The most recent Barcelona defeat by Real came in January’s Spanish Super Cup clash in which Ancelotti’s men claimed a 3-2 win after extra time. The Blaugrana’s performance in that match was praised by the Catalan press, suggesting they were edging ever closer to ending their Real nightmare.
Of course, everyone connected to Real revelled, as that assessment alluded to the chasm that existed between both clubs.
That squad did not have anyone with Auba’s match-winning quality, while Benzema was present for Los Blancos.