After three frustrating seasons, 22-year-old Ousmane Dembélé is still considered a hot prospect, but only if Barcelona can use him properly.
Pace, skills, age and potential. Everything that Mbappé has which makes him one of the best players in the world. Yet his French compatriot Dembélé has failed to impress regularly despite possessing the same qualities. After having an explosive first season at Dortmund with 10 goals and 20 assists in 54 appearances, Ousmane was one of the hottest young prospects in world football. On losing Neymar to PSG, Barcelona swooped in, buying Dembélé for around 145 million euros.
When he arrived to La Liga, there were big expectations on the youngster, with him being the hopeful successor to Neymar after the blaugranas failed to sign Coutinho in the summer of 2017. He impressed in his debut, assisting Suárez the 5th goal against Espanyol. But it was in his first start as a Barça player that problems began. He injured his hamstring for the first time. This kicked off a long and painful spell of injuries to his hamstring, with the latest suffered in February, ruling him out for 6 months. He will have missed around 506 days of his Barcelona career by the time he recovers from his latest injury. That is 61 plus whatever number of games he misses after lockdown ends.
Does Dembélé still have time to develop into the player everyone expected him to become? | Photo by Aitor Alcalde via Getty Images
Such levels of injury have prevented him from developing himself and from showing his best abilities. The constant fitness problems have prevented him from reaching his best, constantly interrupting him just when he was starting to play well. But whenever he played, he showed glimpses of what he could offer to Barcelona. The solo goal against Tottenham perfectly sums up what Dembélé provides. Although he hasn’t matured yet, time and again he injected much-needed pace into an ageing Barcelona side, offering a completely different and amazing attacking option to Valverde and Setién. He formed a formidable partnership with Semedo, both offering pace and skills. But his most prized ability was his lack of a weak foot. The fact that he has scored 18 goals with his right foot and 16 goals with his left says it all. All one needs to do is to see his interview to understand that even he is unclear on which is his strong foot!
This made him an incredibly versatile player, with him being available to play on both flanks. But it wasn’t just injuries that made Dembélé a headache for the Barcelona board. It was also his attitude problems. He was often late to training, played video games late into the night, had parties with friends and even missed training unannounced due to a stomach bug. His disrespect for club rules often overshadowed his performances with him even losing his place in the starting eleven.
❛ Dembélé’s injury was totally unexpected and really hindered our progress. Dembélé is a great player. We count on him ❜
Dembélé is an amazing player with incredible potential. But even after 3 seasons, he hasn’t proven himself to be worth his price tag. His constant injuries and the bad attitude on top have plagued his stay at Catalonia. At full fitness, the Frenchman is one of Setién’s best assets with him offering something to Barcelona that they are in desperate need of. But at the same time his attitude problems and injury issues make the decision of whether to sell him easy for the board. Neymar’s pursuit of a return to the Camp Nou further puts Ousmane’s career as a Barcelona player into question.
But, even with all of this, perhaps he deserves another chance. A player of his potential could prove extremely useful to Barça. Setién has also expressed his admiration for Dembélé and what he offers. The major surgery and the rest he gains from the lockdown might finally give him time to recover properly from his injuries. It might also give him time to take a look back and finally change his attitude with his career at the top of football in jeopardy. As unique as he may be, buying Neymar is an extremely expensive move that the culés cannot afford right now. If instead they could develop Ousmane, Barcelona would be on track for a comeback into their former glory. With his skillset and ability, the right attitude and some luck when it comes to injuries, Dembélé could certainly become one of the world’s best.
Trincão, Griezmann or Dembélé: Who should start for Barcelona?
From having to field center-mids such as Arturo Vidal on the flanks to now owning the likes of Dembélé, Trincão and Griezmann, it’s probably safe to assume that Barcelona’s wing play finally seems to have adequate profiles, individuals worthy of starting out wide. But, while healthy competition is always welcomed at the club, it’s apparent that Koeman must quickly find his “go-to player” and analyse whom he must bet on to consistently start games. With Barça successfully concluding their pre-season and looking ever so dominant in the opening game of La Liga, let’s take a look at what each player brings to the table.
Currently, it looks as if Antoine Griezmann has been reserved as a starter, which doesn’t come as a surprise given his immense status and the weightage his name carries in the squad list. However, Ronald Koeman’s intricate 4-2-3-1 system hasn’t truly allowed the Frenchman to fully express himself yet. Against Villarreal and even in the matches Antoine previously featured in, Griezmann was deprived of a fixated role and alternating occasionally with Messi as a direct number 9 or as a somewhat number 10 often left the right-hand side vulnerable, where Sergi Roberto would be tasked to produce most of the output upfield. Although Griezmann was seen making some well-timed runs, his link-up play was far from satisfactory, and as Messi would occupy the number 9 role, the former Atletico man would fail to operate effectively behind Leo or out wide.
In Barcelona’s La Liga opener, the left flank ticked every box the club seemed to have left unanswered and neglected last season. Jordi Alba’s runs from deep, Coutinho’s additional support as a mediapunta, and Ansu Fati’s exhilarating flare on the touchline proved too much to handle for Emery’s side since diverging attention from even a single player would lead to the visitors getting battered in the final third. Even so, while the Catalans eliminated their narrow and horizontal football to a somewhat acceptable extent, Ronald has only managed to refurbish one side of the pitch, with Griezmann and Messi’s natural tendency to operate centrally leaving the right flank vacant.
Therefore, to truly make the most of Barça’s offensive yield, it is vital to rely on natural wingers such as Trincão or Dembélé, players that can be considered ruthless on the counter and unforgiving in transitions. Whilst both players may eventually qualify as classic wingers, these two individuals propound different options, proving to be ideal in their respective departments. For example, in contrast to Dembouz, Trincão is likely to excel far more against a team with a low-block, given he is an exceedingly refined dribbler and considerably polished in his movement on/off the ball. Dembélé, on the other hand, could bring maximum results against a team with a higher line or a side that prefers to apply a suffocating press, mainly due to the fact that the winger is a space dominant player, and his unparalleled pace and chaotic style of play tends to add a sense of unpredictability on the flanks. Nonetheless, despite the slight differences in gameplay, they are ideal contenders to start for Barça, and must be prioritized in line-ups.
Spectators saw Lionel Messi function as a pure false 9 in the closing minutes of the game against Elche a few days ago as the Argentine partnered up with the likes of Dembélé and Trincão on each side of the pitch. Although Ansu Fati is probable to own the left flank for the upcoming games, it was refreshing to witness the Blaugranas look so imposing with two explosive wingers by Lionel’s side. As it turns out, Koeman’s experiment worked out even against the Yellow Submarine with him applying the same method in the second half. Barça saw their most promising football after proceedings just as Griezmann came off the bench for Trincão, who went on to form a trio with Lionel and Ousmane. Such flare and aggression was not seen previously considering most of Barça’s harvest came solely from the left-hand side of the field.
At this very moment, Barcelona has ample options to choose from, but for the newly adopted 4-2-3-1 formation to continue working at the highest level, it’s important to make the most of such diverse profiles in the squad. Ronald Koeman still has a backlog of work to do and must completely eliminate Barcelona’s horizontal structure if the club truly intends to compete in Europe. With Ousmane and Fransico looking immensely promising in their recent outings, the Dutch coach should take the bold decision of starting either one of them and pursue enhancing the front four’s capabilities.