BARCELONA, Spain — Ousmane Dembele made his return from a long injury layoff as a second-half substitute in Barcelona’s 1-1 draw at Celta Vigo in the Copa del Rey on Thursday.
The 20-year-old France forward ruptured a thigh tendon in his left leg on Sept. 16 in his third appearance with the team after his transfer set a record for the Spanish club.
His move from Borussia Dortmund in the summer could potentially cost nearly 150 million euros ($180 million) as Barcelona seeks to fill the void in its attack left by Neymar after he forced his exit to Paris Saint-Germain.
Dembele went on in the 72nd minute of the round-of-16 match for reserve team striker Jose Arnaiz, who opened the scoring. Dembele took over as Barcelona’s centre forward, but offered little more than a shot that drew a save from goalkeeper Sergio Alvarez in the 78th.
"I wanted (Dembele) to play in a position with the fewest number of defensive obligations because the match was intense and so he could ease his way back," Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. "I am happy with the squad I have and my players have responded well."
Valverde fielded a starting 11 with few regular first-choice players, allowing Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Andres Iniesta to have extra rest, tacked onto the end of the short winter break.
Arnaiz struck for Barcelona in the 15th minute when he drilled in a low cross from Andre Gomes, who started the counterattack by recovering possession. It was the 22-year-old Arnaiz’s third goal in three cup matches this season for Barcelona.
Celta forward Pione Sisto levelled in the 31st after a long team buildup that appeared to have finished in a shot by Iago Aspas that hit the post. But the ball ricocheted off the woodwork and the leg of goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen before falling to Sisto, who fired it over the goalkeeper from a tight angle.
Denis Suarez missed a great chance for Barcelona in the 58th when Nelson Semedo found him arriving all alone at the far post, and Sergio Busquets hit the crossbar with a shot from distance moments later.
Barcelona’s unbeaten streak reached 26 straight matches.
Celta also held Barcelona to a 2-2 draw at Camp Nou in the Spanish league last month.
The second leg will be played in Barcelona next week.