By Richard Martin
BARCELONA (Reuters) – Lionel Messi’s blossoming partnership with electric winger Ousmane Dembele has helped Barcelona to four straight wins at the start of the Liga season and the pair will be gunning for more goals at home to fellow Catalan side Girona on Sunday.
While some concerns remain about Barca’s away performances, following scrappy wins at Real Valladolid and Real Sociedad, Ernesto Valverde’s side have been frighteningly good at home this season, scoring 15 goals in three games at the Nou Camp.
Messi and Dembele have been the architects of their dominance.
Messi typically hogged the headlines after scoring a record eighth Champions League hat-trick in a 4-0 win over PSV Eindhoven on Tuesday but the bigger surprise was the performance of Dembele.
The Frenchman has enjoyed a superb start to the season and has already matched his goal tally from the whole of the last campaign by scoring five times in six games.
With his last campaign marred by injury problems and struggles to adapt to his new surroundings after a big-money move from Borussia Dortmund, Dembele has been playing with renewed confidence and is having a huge impact this term.
The Frenchman’s bursts of pace and his ability to dance past defenders have given Barca an outlet they have lacked since the departure of Neymar to Paris St Germain last year.
He has also proved decisive, scoring winning goals at Valladolid and Sociedad and in the Spanish Super Cup win over Sevilla while striking the second goal which killed off PSV.
“Dembele is doing well and is scoring important goals but that comes from hard work,” Barca coach Valverde said after the win over PSV.
“He’s working hard, trying to help the team and is a player who is able to unbalance the opposition. He’s got that continuity in the side now, which is helping, but he has earned that.”
The form of Dembele and Messi is likely to make Girona wary of a repeat of the 6-1 thrashing they were subjected to on their last visit to the Nou Camp, although Eusebio Sacristan’s side have made a strong start to the season.
Under former Barcelona player and reserve team coach Sacristan, Girona pulled off a spirited 3-2 win over Celta Vigo on Monday, having snatched a surprise 1-0 victory at Villarreal in their previous outing.
Girona will be supported by 1,200 travelling fans who took advantage of an offer of free tickets to the game in compensation for the plans to take the corresponding fixture in January to Miami rather than the club’s Montilivi stadium.
Real Madrid will be looking to return to winning ways when they host Espanyol on Saturday after losing their perfect start by drawing 1-1 at Athletic Bilbao.
Atletico Madrid face a short trip to Getafe, targeting a win to kickstart their season after falling well off the pace and slipping down to ninth in the standings.
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Toby Davis)