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 center 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 leveled 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.
FROM THE SPOT
Gareth Bale and Francisco “Isco” Alarcon scored penalties to help give Real Madrid a 3-0 victory at second-division side Numancia, which had threatened to snatch a draw despite playing half an hour with 10 men.
Bale converted his spot kick in the 35th after Lucas Vazquez was tripped by Carlos Gutierrez.
Despite losing Pape Diamanka to a second booking, Numancia pressed forward and almost leveled in the 76th when Inigo Perez’s shot from near the halfway line hit the crossbar.
Substitute Isco finally put the result beyond doubt in the 88th after Vazquez earned another penalty when he was fouled by Unai Medina in the box.
Borja Mayoral then added a third goal with a header in stoppage time.
Like Valverde, Madrid coach Zindine Zidane rested top players Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric.
Levante fought back for a 2-1 win at Espanyol after Jose Luis Morales and Ivan Lopez scored to erase Gerard Moreno’s opener.
Leganes beat Villarreal 1-0 at home thanks to a goal from Nordin Amrabat shortly after halftime.