After a string of impressive performances under Ronald Koeman this season, it looks like Ousmane Dembele might be rewarded with a contract renewal. But does the Frenchman deserve one?
Football is a fun game. Eleven people run behind a ball, score goals, and, in the end, money wins. Nowadays, youngsters are poached away from their team for ludicrous amounts as currency prevails in its bid to control the sport.
Barcelona have been at the heart of most of these excessive transfers. Neymar, Philippe Coutinho, Antoine Griezmann, and Ousmane Dembele have either departed or joined Camp Nou for a ludicrous amount of money. Of the four, Dembele is probably the most talked-about, as he heads into his fourth season as a Barcelona player, despite managing to make just 56 appearances in the league.
Yet, when he joined Camp Nou, he was touted to replace Neymar. Barring finishing, they were already quite similar anyway – skills, changes of pace, two-footedness; Dembele had the lot.
However, football never pans out the way everyone would want to, and the footballing gods sacrifice some players along the way. The French winger was one of those interesting yet unlucky players. Plagued by injuries, the 23-year-old has had to redefine himself for the past four seasons.
He first came as an exciting youngster, but his lengthy injury in his first start for the club would be an early dagger in a dark spell. Then, in his second season, the winger had a few purple patches. He won many points for his club en-route a La Liga title but got injured in the crucial moments as his side would suffer another Remontada. Finally, in his latest season – 2019/20, he made no more than nine appearances.
It is fair to acknowledge that the youngster’s career at Barça has not been successful. Other than a few decent performances, where his talent and potential were crystal-clear, he has not been as consistent as the player he had to replace.
It is difficult to look for positives in Dembele’s four years at Barcelona. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)
After three years in Catalonia, and many rumours linking him with other clubs, Dembélé might now finally get to experience a full season. After three years of hell, there might be a light at the end of the tunnel.
Better late than never?
The Frenchman has not yet experienced any setbacks this campaign. After being heavily linked to Manchester United in the summer, Dembele won his place back in the squad as soon as the window slammed shut, and has cemented his spot now that Josep Bartomeu has left. While dethroning Antoine Griezmann on the right side, Dembélé has silenced some of the critics that were on his back.
After scoring and assisting against Ferencvaros in a European cameo, Dembélé started on the bench in El Clasico but has not experienced the bench since then. He has repaid back his coach’s confidence in him by scoring goals against Juventus — albeit deflected — and Real Betis.
As it stands, according to reports, Dembele would like to start negotiations for a contract renewal. After his start of the season, it would be a great display of faith towards their player from Barça. After accompanying the World Cup winner through hell, the Catalan side would like to experience the lightness of the clouds of heaven.
📰 — Dembélé won’t leave in January. Barcelona are prioritizing the renewal of his contract which expires in 2022. The player is open to negotiating. [md] pic.twitter.com/BRWJfFn92w— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) November 16, 2020
However, this news has spurred one question in the Culés‘ minds: Does Dembele deserve said contract renewal?
Dembele has not disappointed on the pitch as much as he has off the pitch. 22 goals in 82 games for his club seems acceptable, especially given his injury record and age. While these are not Neymar-level stats, Dembele has yielded adequate results when available. However, 82 games in four seasons is far from a reliable number.
Dembélé has gone down injured many times. Even when he felt at his best, for example, the Leganés game where he was Man of the Match in 2019, he was taken off because of an injury. While he indeed has avoided hindrances this year, the Catalans should not forget that he missed a year worth of football with two consecutive injuries from 2019 to 2020.
The question is to know if he can, and will avoid injuries for a sustainable period. His start to the season has been nothing short of excellent, but can he keep it going? Maybe it would be advisable to wait until the end of the season.
The only logical reason for such a quick renewal would his market value. After joining for more than €100 million, Dembele has lost over half of his value. A contract renewal accompanied by his recent run of form would help his value sky-rocket, helping Barcelona to offload him at an inflated price, if that is, in fact, is the intention.
Is it finally Dembele’s time to shine? (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)
If the winger has a great season and seals a contract renewal, an injury in the next month to year will not hit his value as drastically. It means the club would get more money, and it is then an acceptable reason to get him to sign a contract. Handing a new contract would also help give Dembele more serenity and stability.
Getting rewarded for his form would be a way to tell the 23-year-old how much the club has faith in him. After Koeman has come out on multiple occasions to praise the Frenchman, the atmosphere is extremely healthy for him. The confidence might finally make him realise his potential.
Until then, Barcelona should not rush and wait for more circumstances. Dembele is an exciting player. He deserves the acclaim he is getting today, but he should not get too ahead of himself, that can only reek of trouble. As far as the contract renewal is concerned, it looks like Dembele will be signing the papers sooner than later.
How should Barcelona lineup against Osasuna?
Four wins in four games. Barcelona are cruising in their Champions League group, as they do every year. A second-string Blaugrana side, one that did not feature any of the four captains, was enough to tear down Dynamo Kyiv. The game midweek was not just important for the result in the Champions League but so many players on an individual level.
Carles Alena bossed the midfield with impeccable accuracy. A promising debut from the underrated Oscar Mingueza, desperately needed minutes for Riqui Puig. A performance from Martin Braithwaite and Sergino Dest that found them in the UCL Team of the Week!
Yet, the season seems to be sinking. The league seems to have slipped away even before its midway point. Injuries continue to damage even the existing fine line of hope. The bleeding must stop, but it just doesn’t seem to happen.
What to expect from Osasuna?
Los Rojillos sit level with Barcelona on points, having played nine games so far to the Catalans’ eight. Three wins, two draws and four losses see them sit at 14th, just one place below the hosts.
Arrasate will hope to mirror his Camp Nou exploits from last season. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA / AFP)
The last time the two sides met at the Camp Nou was the only scar in Barcelona’s otherwise unbeaten home streak. It is a game that one remembers vividly. A last-minute goal from Kike Barja helped the visitors run away with three points, and put at end to Barcelona’s misery in the title race. If anything, it is a reason for Jagoba Arrasate to be enthusiastic for his return to the Catalan capital.
Arrasate has largely deployed a 4-4-2 for Osasuna this season, with Ante Budimir and Enric Gallego the usual starters in the attack. In defence, however, they have played a 5-3-2, echoing the side that played Barcelona at the Camp Nou last season.
Jon Moncayola has played as the deep midfielder, often slotting in between the centre-backs to assist in defensive responsibilities. One immediately associates Osasuna with their sturdy mid-block. They do not unnecessarily commit men forward for attack nor pressing.
Instead, Los Rojillos outnumber the opposition attack in their own half, and the five-man line leaves no spaces for the opposition to exploit. When this forces the attacking side to commit more men forward, Osasuna strike on the counter. In particular, advanced fullbacks easily fall prey to their ploys with large spaces left vacant behind them to be exploited.
Arrasate’s side thereafter looks to capitalise by their potent switches in play, and dangerous cutbacks from the wings. Indeed, it is a style of play that Barcelona have struggled to deal with in past years. With so many injuries in defence, it will be an uphill task for the Barcelona backline to hold off the rampant counters.
How should Barcelona line-up?
After being handed the captain’s band midweek, Marc-Andre ter Stegen will be back in goal at the Camp Nou.
In defence, however, Koeman surely has his reasons to panic. Gerard Pique, Sergi Roberto and Ronald Araujo are not available owing to injuries, and the Dutchman finds himself in a fix.
Frenkie is expected to start, even if it means playing as a centre-back. (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images)
In central defence, Clement Lenglet will likely partner Frenkie de Jong. The dutch-protege enjoyed a day off on Tuesday as Koeman did not call his up to the squad. It will be a tricky pairing, but one tried and tested in recent weeks.
Given Sergi Roberto’s injury and Dest unlikely involvement in Sunday’s clash, Oscar Mingueza might start at Right-back. Unquestionably, it will be a new challenge for the youngster. Yet, not one beyond his capability.
At left-back, One expects Jordi Alba to return to his starting position after being rested against Kyiv.
Sergio Busquets is expected ahead of the clash, yet it may not be wise to let him start immediately. A performance like the one against Kyiv demands a follow up for Carles Alena. The La Masia graduate could start alongside Miralem Pjanic on the night.
The wingers will likely continue to be the same as the Champions League clash. Ousmane Dembele could get yet another start in his natural position-right wing. Pedri, whose stocks are rising by the day, could start on the left side in combination with Jordi Alba. The newly-turned 18-year-old’s vision and composure on the ball will be crucial to breakdown Osasuna’s air-tight defence.
As the no. 10, in between, the two wingers would likely be Lionel Messi. After getting a much-deserved rest against Kyiv, one hopes that the talisman finds his magic back. It has been a tough 48 hours for Leo, and he will be itching to put up a tribute performance in honour of his legendary national team icon — Diego Maradona
One can expect Messi to give a tribute to the late Diego Maradona today. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
In attack, Antoine Griezmann is the natural option after being rested in the last game. However, the Frenchman needs to up his game, because Martin Braithwaite is knocking at the doors as a potential starter as centre-forward.
Pedri · Messi · Dembele
Aleña · Pjanic
Alba · Lenglet · de Jong · Mingueza