Messi’s departure puts spotlight on rising stars
The first Barcelona v Real Madrid meeting after the departure of Lionel Messi to Paris St Germain will be headlined on Sunday by two youngsters as a game typically billed as a clash of superstars instead looks to the upcoming talent of Vinicius Jr and Ansu Fati.
The two players still have a lot to prove, but their talent has elevated them to a point where they are becoming the new faces of their clubs.
On Barcelona's side, Fati has been one of the few positives in a season that started with the heartbreaking loss of Messi due to a financial crisis that also led to Antoine Griezmann rejoining Atletico Madrid. Fati, who inherited Barcelona's number 10 jersey from Messi, burst onto the scene for the club at 16, when he became the second youngest player in LaLiga history.
He quickly established himself as one of the most exciting young talents in the world, becoming the youngest player to score in the Champions League and the youngest player to net for Spain.
He is likely to provide Barcelona's main threat alongside Memphis Depay and Sergio Aguero, whose own comeback from a calf injury he suffered in pre-season continued with cameo appearances against Valencia and Dynamo Kyiv in the Champions League on Wednesday.
For Real Madrid, Karim Benzema is having probably the best season of his career and is a contender to win the Ballon D'or. He is La Liga's top scorer, with nine goals and seven assists, but despite the France international's excellent form, the headlines in the Spanish capital this week were focused on his partner up front.
The 21-year-old Brazilian Vinicius Jr scored a brace in Real's 5-0 Champions League win over Shakhtar Donetsk and with seven goals in 11 games this season, he has already improved on last season's output, when he scored six times in 49 appearances.