'He's had a very good season': Araujo return is great news for Koeman and Barcelona

By Sports Desk February 26, 2021

For years now, Barcelona have relied on one superstar above all others, with Lionel Messi the player that has glued the team together at Camp Nou - the Argentinian's very presence bringing a sense of calm.

But now there is another South American whose impact upon the team has been quietly telling, and the anticipated return to action of Ronald Araujo this weekend could have a major impact at a crucial stage of the season.

Araujo does not have a cachet anywhere near that of Messi, but his absence was sorely felt as Barcelona stumbled to painful defeats against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League and Sevilla in the Copa del Rey.

Thankfully for coach Ronald Koeman, central defender Araujo is fit again after the ankle injury he sustained early in the 3-2 win at Real Betis three weeks ago.

The 21-year-old Uruguayan has missed the past five games, and his value to the team has perhaps never been quite so glaring as during his absence.

He was also sidelined for a five-week stretch in the autumn, and the evidence is mounting to show that Araujo, when fit, is now key to Barcelona's success.

"Ronald has had a very good season," Koeman said on Friday, when he named Araujo in his squad for the LaLiga home game against Sevilla.

"He is young and has learned a lot, he has shown his quality and physique. It is important to have strong and fast people. He must improve his game with the ball but defensively he contributes many things."

Koeman must know the data that shows exactly what a difference Araujo can make for Barcelona.

In the 20 matches that Araujo has played this season, Barcelona have won 14 times, drawn four and lost just twice, but when he has been absent that win ratio has nosedived.

Without Araujo's involvement, Barcelona have won nine, drawn two and lost six of their 17 games - amounting to a win percentage of 52.9, down from 70.

There is a curious contrast to be drawn here with Gerard Pique, the longest-serving centre-back at Barcelona.

A knee injury kept the 34-year-old out for almost three months until he returned to action in the shocking 4-1 home defeat against PSG on February 16.

In the 13 games Pique has played this season, Barcelona have a modest record of W6, D3, L4. Without him, they have won 17, drawn three and lost four.

As Koeman says, Araujo "contributes many things" to his defence, but perhaps in the twilight of his career that applies increasingly less so in the case of club great Pique.

Related items

  • Wolff: Formula One title battle is amazing for the sport Wolff: Formula One title battle is amazing for the sport

    Mercedes boss Toto Wolff believes this year's dramatic Formula One title race is "amazing for the sport".

    Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen head into the final grand prix of the season level on points at the top of the drivers' championship.

    Mercedes, meanwhile, are bidding to win their eighth constructors' title. The gap between themselves and Red Bull is 28 points, though Wolff's team could still lose the crown to their rivals.

    With such drama promised in Abu Dhabi this weekend, Wolff thinks it can only serve as a boost to F1, which had become predictable due to Mercedes' dominance. 

    Indeed, Hamilton is aiming for a record eighth world title and a fifth consecutive championship triumph.

    Since 2014, Hamilton has only failed to win the championship on one occasion, finishing second to team-mate Nico Rosberg in 2016, while Verstappen and Red Bull are bidding for a maiden title.

    "The final race will be intense, but it's important to not get distracted, to just keep our heads down, our feet on the ground and bring the performance that we had last time out," Wolff said in a release on Mercedes' official team website.

    "We're grateful to still be in this fight. The fact that both championships will be decided at the season finale proves just how hard both sides have been challenging each other and pushing each other forward.

    "It's all or nothing for the season finale and that's amazing for the sport, amazing for the fans and amazing for all of us, too.

    "We're also relishing the challenges of racing in Abu Dhabi this weekend, at a circuit that has gone through quite a few changes since we last raced there.

    "There are new sections of track to understand and that really is a step into the unknown for everyone. So, it's going to be another exciting weekend!"

    Verstappen won the 2020 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and in the unlikely event both he and Hamilton finish outside of the points, it will be the Dutchman who wins the title courtesy of his nine race victories for the season.

    Mercedes had won the previous six races in Abu Dhabi prior to Verstappen's victory last year. The Red Bull star is aiming to become the first F1 champion from the Netherlands, and he would be the fourth-youngest champion at the age of 24 years, two months and 12 days.

    Emerson Fittipaldi and Clay Regazzoni, in 1974, are the only other F1 title rivals to have gone into the last race of a season level on points. Never in the history of the championship has a season ended with two drivers tied at the top of the standings.

  • Ashes 2021-22: Warner hails Australia batting in the face of 'relentless' England attack Ashes 2021-22: Warner hails Australia batting in the face of 'relentless' England attack

    David Warner lauded Travis Head and Australia's other batters after they dominated England on day two of the opening Ashes Test.

    England were dismissed for only 147 on day one, and Australia put themselves into a commanding 196-run lead on Thursday.

    Head (112 not out) scored the third-fastest Ashes century - reaching three figures off only 85 balls - to take Pat Cummins' team onto 343-7 at stumps in Brisbane.

    Warner made an impressive 94 after being given a few lives, putting on 156 for the second wicket with Marnus Labuschagne (74) to put Australia in a strong position.

    Labuschagne has now scored four half-centuries from five Test innings at the Gabba, with Warner having struck over 50 as an opener for a sixth time at the venue, with only Mark Taylor (eight) doing so on more occasions.

    Speaking to Fox Sports, Warner said: "They did bowl well, didn't they? They were relentless.

    "What an entertaining innings by Travis Head. We've got smiles on our faces. It's got to be up there for him personally. It was a tight battle with him and Uzzie [Usman Khawaja] but to come out the way he did... that's the Travis Head we know."

    Warner's first near-miss came early on, when Ben Stokes bowled him but the all-rounder over-stepped.

    "Obviously getting bowled off a no-ball - you've got to try and keep your feet behind the line as a bowler," Warner added.

    "I thought I left very well. Everyone was talking about my form in the T20 stuff but when you're out of runs you deserve some luck."

    Ollie Robinson was the pick of England's bowlers with 3-48, and the paceman felt his eventual dismissal of Warner had been a long time coming.

    "I sort of felt like I was going to get him out every over to be honest," Robinson told Fox Sports.

    "He left well in periods but I think he played at a lot of balls he could have left. So hopefully throughout the series I can get his number a bit earlier."

    Reflecting on chances going down in the field, with Rory Burns' routine drop from a Warner edge a particular low point, Robinson added: "We did miss opportunities early on but on another day we could have had three or four early.

    "It came out well. It felt like I was consistent and had a lot of play and misses. The closest thing we have [to the Gabba] is Headingley. It's nice to get that bit of extra bounce as a tall guy."

    Robinson did pull up with an apparent hamstring issue, but revealed it was only a minor problem.

    "It's okay," he said. "I came off for a bit of strapping, bit of maintenance but it's alright, rest up tonight and go again tomorrow."

  • Malone lauds MVP Jokic for inspiring Nuggets win over Pelicans Malone lauds MVP Jokic for inspiring Nuggets win over Pelicans

    Michael Malone says Nikola Jokic gave another demonstration he is "one of the better clutch players in the NBA" after he inspired the Denver Nuggets to a win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

    Reigning MVP Jokic scored a season-high 39 points to go with 11 assists and 11 rebounds in a 120-114 overtime victory in Louisiana on Wednesday.

    Jokic came up with the first 11 points for the Nuggets in the extra period to give them a cushion, and Denver head coach Malone hailed the Serbia star after his side moved to 12-12.

    Malone said: "He's not going to out-quick you, he's not going to out-jump you. He's going to out-skill you, he's going to out-smart you, and he does it so methodically.

    "He's one of the better clutch players in the NBA in the last five years, and tonight we saw many more examples of that."

    Jokic's triple-double was the 61st of his career and a fourth this season. He is eighth on the all-time list, two ahead of the great Larry Bird and one behind James Harden. Russell Westbrook leads the way on 189.

    He said in his on-court interview: "It felt good. The team believed in me. The coach drew a couple of plays for me. The ball went in and we just kept rolling.

    "Bottom line, I think they really trust me and I'm really comfortable taking shots in those situations."

    Denver face the San Antonio Spurs (8-15) on Thursday.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.