The 19/20 season of Ousmane Dembélé has been helpless and hampered by injuries again. Let’s review it and discuss his future.
This is the fifth episode of a series in which we review the performances of the different Barça first team players, as well as discuss their futures for the next campaign. You can check the series here.
Injuries are the worst event that can happen to a footballer’s career. Worse than red cards, bad diets and paltry runs of form. Injuries destroy players’ fitness and muscles to a certain point of no return where the players can’t sustain the highest level anymore. It happened with Yoann Gourcuff. The Frenchman was incredible at title-winning Bordeaux, but when he jumped ship to go to Lyon, injuries destroyed him to the point where he got injured while walking his dog.
At Barcelona, another injury-prone Frenchman has set foot at the pitch, but this time it’s grimmer than with Gourcuff. Ousmane Dembélé, the 2017 Bundesliga rookie of the year, has had the worst luck with injuries, and while at first he did not seem to care much about his lifestyle, he took care of his body and still got the disbelief of an injury.
It would be cynical and sad to do a review on Dembélé’s 19/20 season, as it is so short and nonsensical. His best of the nine games he played summed up his life as a blaugrana well. Against Sevilla at the Camp Nou in October, he scored a superb goal, with his trademark crochet doing wonders against the Andalusians, and was then sent off moments later. This summarises Dembélé’s culé career well as whenever the Frenchman finds some form by scoring goals, creating chances and dominating the game, he gets halted and disheartened by everything he has endured at Barça.
Another dark season for Dembélé, who hasn’t played a game since November 2019 | Photo by Lluís Gené / AFP via Getty Images
This year has been the worst for Ousmane. After suffering a defeat at San Mamés in the first game of the campaign, he was declared injured, and he did not play a single minute of football until the Villarreal game in late September. A few months later and he would cry off the pitch against Borussia Dortmund after landing awkwardly on his foot. He would not feature for the next few months until February at least. January comes, and Ernesto Valverde gets the boot. Quique Setién keeps bragging about Dembélé and how the former Rennes wonderkid will feel like a new signing in February. February comes, and his luck with injury worsens as this time he gets injured after a training session.
“You have to keep in mind that they are still young kids. Their dedication, from what I have seen, is total and absolute. I have tears when I see the capacity and intensity in which he works. We are delighted with Dembélé. He can be the winter signing.”Quique Setién in February before Ousmane Dembélé’s second consecutive injury
Dembélé’s journey with injuries has been a nightmare, and many fans have lost faith in him, understandably so. Ousmane is so good when fit, perhaps one of the best in the league, but he never gets to showcase it consistently. Even when he is on his best form, he gets unlucky with injury and his hope to succeed at the club he admires dies. It was apparent to see against Dortmund when he came off. He cried and covered his face in shame because he knows he hasn’t been good enough with football and injury.
He is the first culé to get frustrated with injuries and what he should hope for is an injury-free campaign where he can showcase all his talents as he did in 2016 for Rennes or 2017 with Dortmund. Thankfully for him, president Josep Maria Bartomeu has declared that the winger is not for sale, and it would be stupid to sell him for a cut-price when everyone knows how much Dembélé can offer when fit.
“Messi is untouchable and non-transferable. Ter Stegen, Lenglet, Semedo, De Jong, Griezmann, Dembélé…players we are counting on in the future.”Josep Maria Bartomeu Barcelona president
After a nightmare season, the young Frenchman needs a fairytale term to make amends with his demons. He has the dedication, as shown in every training session and his actual lifestyle. He has the love for the club which every player needs to succeed. He has the backing of the board and the players. He just needs to fulfil his potential and become the player for whom Barça paid over the odds. Ousmane Dembélé’s story at Barcelona now looks like his 19/20 season. Promise, hope but at the end, dim light at the end of every tunnel as if it was clear he was going to relapse after doing good. Next year, Dembélé goes again and, hopefully, this time, he doesn’t crash painfully.
What next for Ousmane Dembélé?
As mentioned, Dembélé’s luck with injuries has been awful. The ambidextrous winger can play an essential role in a squad that is in deep lack of pace, spontaneity and width. A fit Ousmane can provide that and way more with his intricate passing. Bartomeu has said that he doesn’t intend to touch Dembélé place in the team, and this might give him a mood booster for next year, his last chance to impress at the club of his dreams.
A 19/20 season review of the new faces: Pedri
In September 2019, Barcelona paid 5 million euros to secure the services of Pedri, who would have a standout debut 19/20 season with Las Palmas at 17. In this article, we analyse the attributes and main statistics of the young and extremely promising attacking midfielder.
This is the first episode of a series of articles that dive deep into a season review of the incoming new faces at Barcelona. You can check the 19/20 season reviews here.
As Ronald Koeman‘s new Barcelona is already taking shape, the youngest member to be joining the first team is Pedro González López, affectionately known as Pedri.
The 17-year-old from the Canary Islands has been a member of UD Las Palmas through and through, right from the youth team set-up to his professional debut in 2019 with the first team. Playing primarily as an attacking mid or left winger, Pedri showcased his attacking repertoire early enough to become an important member of the Las Palmas senior team and went on to play 2982 minutes for them.
His skillset didn’t go unnoticed at the bigger clubs, and soon enough, he was snatched up by Barcelona. So, what does the young midfielder bring to the table?
Pedri was, admittedly, not the biggest goal threat in his first senior season, but given his age, that’s not an issue at all. He scored 4 goals and gave 5 assists.
Watching his shot videos and looking at his shot-map, one can conclude that he does need to work a bit on the judicious choice of positions from where to take shots. For example, there were a bunch of shots from the right with his right foot – shooting from such acute angles is quite unnatural for someone who is not a natural goalscorer. There are also far too many shots from outside the box, most of which, as the videos suggest, are hopeful punts than accurate attempts.
Given below are a variety of his attacking stats – both the raw value and the percentile (mentioned inside parentheses) when compared to other wingers or attacking midfielders who played at least 1000 minutes in the Segunda División of Spain last season.
Data by Wyscout
While most numbers appear to be modest, do keep in mind that this was a 16-year-old playing his first professional season. And his assists, expected assists (xA) and dribbling percentiles are particularly encouraging. It shows he is not afraid to take risks, and we are going to get more glimpses of that further into the article.
But before we proceed, let’s take a look at an animation of the only goal he scored from outside the box:
It was a well-struck fist-time half-volley into the left bottom corner, giving Las Palmas a 1–0 home win against Sporting de Gijón in September 2019. It also marked Pedri’s fist goal as a professional.
A big issue that plagued Barcelona all season was an uncoordinated and lackadaisical defensive effort put in by the team in general. Very little defensive activity by Luis Suárez and Lionel Messi led to Barcelona effectively defending with nine men. A lot of old men in the midfield in the form of Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitić and Arturo Vidal also meant that the necessary speed to catch up with fast breaks was lacking as well.
All these afore-mentioned midfielders are very fine players – some of the top midfielders in their prime – but have grown old and lost a bit of their zip, which is much needed in the midfield right now. Meanwhile, Frenkie de Jong is very athletic, and Riqui Puig is deceptively fast, and both of them put in decent defensive numbers. And Pedri should complement them well were these three to take the field in a game together.
Pedri put in a good amount of defensive work for Las Palmas. Browsing through his videos, one can immediately conclude that Pedri is deceptively fast as well and good at reading runs, and he times and angles his own runs to cut the opponents off in their tracks and win back the ball.
Shown below are a variety of his defensive stats. Except for aerial duels – understandable as he is only 177 cms tall –, he ranks very high at every other metric:
Next, let’s take a look at Pedri’s passing characteristics, as shown below.
Pedri was highly involved in the attacking build-ups while maintaining a pretty decent passing accuracy for an attacking midfielder/winger hybrid. He played a lot of forward passes at decent accuracy – something that should bring smiles to the faces of the fans. The teenager is definitely someone who is not shy at taking risks and will mix it up with a decent range of long balls as well. Pedri played around 9 forward passes per 90 minutes, around 8 back passes per 90 minutes and the rest were lateral.
Once again, his video clips make it clear that he attempts to progress the ball and be vertical whenever possible, and the data corroborates that. But here comes the highlight of the article: his keypassing numbers.
What should be clarified right away here is that “dangerous passes” is a nickname I am using for all sorts of progressive and productive passes. This includes passes that lead to shots, assists and pre-assists, progressive passes etc. Let’s have a look at his numbers:
Here we see his greatest asset: his passing abilities to do something productive. And Pedri is outstanding at almost every single category. He ranks very highly in productive passes (which are passes leading to shots + 2nd assists + 3rd assists), passes to the final third and the penalty area, through balls, deep progressions and progressive passes, while also maintaining a reasonably good accuracy at each kind of pass.
This is arguably what attracted Barcelona, and the club will be well served by a passer who is already at this stage of calibre at such an early age. Let’s take a deeper look at his passes that led to shots and goals:
14 of his 19 key passes were into the penalty area – arguably the most dangerous area to take shots from. Only one of the key passes is a corner kick – everything else comes from open play, which is encouraging.
Watching the videos, three of the key passes that end outside the box came from fast breaks – counter-attacks – where Pedri carried the ball upfield from deep and laid it onto the path of his teammate, or found his teammate with accurate long balls from deep. So, even though they were far from the box, they led to extremely dangerous plays by Las Palmas.
Focusing on just the assists, it is easy to see how Pedri combines his speed at ball-carrying with his silky dribbling skills to get past opposition and create crucial amounts of space before finding a teammate with a laser-accurate pass:
And as a special gift to the readers, here is an animation of the assist that happens at the top right corner of the pitch in the viz above. Pedri makes a well-timed run to latch on to his teammate’s pass outside the box, before pulling off an outrageous piece of skill to dribble past his marker with a ‘Berbatov-flick-and-turn’, runs into the box and lays the ball off through two opposition players for his teammate to smash a goal in.
Pedri is an absolute gem, and along with Ansu Fati, Riqui Puig, Francisco Trincão and Frenkie de Jong, may well end up forming the core of a youth-based team. As such, Barcelona will do well to hold on to him and nurture him well. After an already promising – unofficial – debut against Nàstic de Tarragona on Saturday, culés can only hope for him to have a great season and future ahead.
Acknowledgements: I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Samuel Gustafson, writer at Barça Universal, in collating the data and the videos used in the above article