Just when Barcelona faithfuls thought that they were watching the best, fit version of Ousmane Dembele, the Frenchman picks up another injury, putting his future in jeopardy.
Football, like several other things in life, is dominated by uncertainties and inconsistencies, be it on-the-pitch performances, or injuries. Some players are the best in the world one day and the other they are on the transfer list. This uncertainty can make football beautiful or agonizing.
Sometimes, new signings take time to adapt, especially when a youngster makes the step-up to a superclub like Barcelona or Real Madrid. However, when and if these youngsters adapt, they become unstoppable forces that are ready to go through every team in the world.
Joao Félix is the best example when it comes to a young life becoming unstoppable after adapting. After a rough start to life in Madrid last season, Félix is now living up to his groundbreaking transfer fee.
At Barcelona, one player is enjoying a welcome renaissance. Ousmane Dembele, one of the priciest players in the world, seemed to be finally coming good at Camp Nou at the fourth time of asking. The Frenchman, after three years of relentless injuries, looks fitter and revitalised. So much so, that Ronald Koeman publicly stated that it was going to be difficult to drop him if he continues like this. Alas, he suffered a two-week setback on Sunday.
He was the best player for Barcelona against Ferecvaros in the Champions League. Skilful runs, altruistic game style and superb shots, Dembele terrified a defence that was not up to the competition’s standards. He finished the game with an assist and a goal, but the primitive stats do not do him justice.
The 23-year-old succeeded in five out of six dribbles, won six duels and completed 83% of his passes. All of that while other players, like Antoine Griezmann and Jordi Alba, helped him toward the win.
Dembele’s relationship with Alba on the pitch looked healthy on Wednesday. For the first goal of the game, the World Cup winner waited on the left, sliding the ball to Alba, which resulted in a quick interplay between the two, and before the Budapest outfit realised, the scoreline read 1-0.
A few minutes later, the story repeated itself. The skilful forward combined once with Alba when his chip landed directly on the diminutive defender’s foot, who released it for Dembele. He made no mistake with the cross, finding the poaching Martin Braithwaite to make it 2-0.
After that, the Barcelona attacker ran the show and got a goal to show for his plaudits. His team, as Oscar Mingueza said, had taken their foot off the gas pedal, but he did not want to stop, and if not for a bit of poor decision making in the final third, could have had a goal to
Culés were sure of one thing: Dembele, the real one, arrived in Barcelona. His fans could not be more ecstatic while his doubters are now second-guessing themselves.
4 goals, 2 assists in 6 starts – incredible start to the season for Dembele. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO/Getty)
At first glance, though, it is safe to say he is a far way from becoming one of the main-man for Barcelona. He might, be, however, in a transition phase. After being dropped for important games like the one against Sevilla and then El Clasico, Dembele was given starts against Juventus and Atletico Madrid and was a standout performer in both games.
Dembele, the human being, is an enigma. Once a trouble-maker, he now looks like the most professional athlete at the club. On the pitch, however, the French international has next to never disappointed. He is still far from the player he was supposed to replace – Neymar -, but is on the right path.
Moreover, the Frenchman has worked on several aspects of his game, improving his footwork, shooting, and off the ball runs. Quicker, more confident and, most importantly, more vocal, Dembele seems done with his introverted way of playing.
Dembele took five shots during the game, more than any other player and even his best tally of the season. His xG, excluding the penalty, however, was 0.13. It may seem low, but it shows how confident the winger has become, attempting shots from difficult situations, and coming close to scoring often.
Also, had he not passed to Francisco Trincao or Riqui Puig in front of goal, he could have scored a hat-trick. However, the captain on the night wanted two fringe players to get their first goal of the year.
The thrill of the chase
After a few months without any physical problems, Dembele suffered a hamstring strain as Barcelona fell to defeat against Cadiz. This time, he is only out for two weeks, but it still seems like his club cannot fully count on him.
Sure, he started the season in good form, but his recurring injuries always were a worry for the Culés. Obviously, Dembele offers a lot on the pitch, but if it is not sustainable, how can Barcelona trust him?
Dembele has been hamstrung by his injuries at Barcelone, literally and figuratively. (Photo by JOSEP LAGO/Getty)
He always had the potential to star for Barcelona. However, Dembele must now reflect on his career, and with a year and a half left on his deal, talks of a contract extension could hit a roadblock.
It is an unfortunate conclusion to draw from a player’s luck with recurring setbacks, especially when he was so close to becoming one of the main men in a squad that is crying for his style of play.
Still, Culés must understand that this injury is not a long-term one. Dembele has recovered from much worse, and he is now immune to doubting himself because of such horrible events. He will miss huge fixtures, such as the one against Juventus or Real Sociedad, but his season is far from over. He started it well and has to find his feet after coming back.
It will also be a challenge for his coach. Ronald Koeman managed Dembele really well thus far in the season. The Dutchman did not rush him and utilised him in the best way possible when needed. However, the 57-year-old has been subject to poor decisions throughout the season, the treatment of Riqui Puig, Carles Aleña, and Pedri staring as examples.
If this injury proves to be the final straw for Koeman, Dembele could be transfer-listed in January to make way for Memphis Depay. As unjustified as it seems, it is a real possibility, and the €105 million signing will never succeed at his beloved club.
Dembele can write an incredible story at Barcelona, but needs even more time. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS/Getty)
For Dembele to turn his tragedy into a success story, it would take a mammoth turnaround. However, the fans have given him many chances, and while he has impressed on the pitch, his consistency in terms of staying fit has to improve. He has a few months to prove his worth and continue his promising campaign. Hopefully, he can become the player he once was at Rennes and Dortmund.
A 2-week absence is nothing compared to a whole season. If he can stay fit for most of the year, there will be next to no mention of this injury and his place amongst the big boys will not be jeopardised. That is only if his history with injuries leaves him alone, and that is a huge if.
Oscar Mingueza continues to prove why he deserves to stay at Barcelona
If Culés were ever facing a dilemma whether Oscar Mingueza was truly worthy of being a regular in the first team – still unsure regarding the Spaniard’s talents –, his exceptional performances against Sevilla over the last two games must have surely been the nail in the coffin, elevating his status not only in the team; but amongst the fans well. As Mingueza proceeds to prove doubters wrong and make a name for himself in a team going through a tricky season, Barcelona appear to have unearthed a gem for the future.
During the time Sergiño Dest had been out injured this campaign, spectators were used to seeing Mingueza own the right flank, a position he is vastly unfamiliar with, but one that he gradually began to make hay with. By simply fulfilling the basics, Mingueza established himself as a reliable outlet in Ronald Koeman’s XI. It was made apparent that replacing a marauding speedster like Dest was bound to be a tough ask – given the raw speed and trickery the US international possessed – and questions were constantly raised over his offensive output as well as how it impacted his defensive concentration.
Even so, while the complaints were at times validated, catering to the number 28’s needs by placing him in a position he is far more amicable with, it’s safe to say Pimienta’s prodigy has blossomed like none other. The 3-5-2 hybrid system was an unconventional choice to begin with, yet it enabled Ronald Koeman to bring the best out of the profiles available.
Mingueza, in particular, has been tasked to start in a back 3, alongside Gerard Piqué and Clement Lenglet, where his aggression to neutralize the opposition’s plays from the right-hand side have proven to be critical. Forming a solid alliance with his partners in crime, he managed to successfully keep two clean sheets in two games against one of Spain’s most efficient sides, Sevilla.
Albeit conceding a penalty in the Copa del Rey encounter stained what could have been an unimpaired display, his ability to continuously keep the Andalusian teams’ nifty forwards at bay with aerial dominance and positional proficiency elevated Barcelona’s daring approach upfront.
With defensive duties expanded and authority to occasionally rotate roles with Dest, La Masia’s pearl was not just limited to closing down passing lanes or compress spaces; but he played a commanding high line and did not show any hesitation to burst forward, which eventually proved to suffocate Sevilla and forced them to play long balls in both encounters.
The truculent nature of Barcelona’s defence translated to the forwards, helping the side press valiantly and thriving in their build-up as neat one-touch passing would seamlessly allow the Catalans to bypass the first wave of pressure. Furthermore, an attribute that makes the young starlet a promising prospect is undoubtedly his versatility. The beaming blonde boy from Catalonia has shown on various occasions that he can comfortably break an opposition’s lines by carrying the ball up-field as well as execute well-timed tackles.
The 21-year-old made 5 tackles and won 6 ground duels in the game at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan. At the Camp Nou, he had another exceptional exhibition – bar the penalty –. Still, he lacked polish at times and tended to rush into challenges, which is something he is only going to learn with time. Despite the youngster showing applaudable performances at centre-back, it is worth noting that Mingueza has invariably exceeded expectations wherever he is employed on the field.
The jack of all trades‘ limitations at right-back were made evident in various encounters, but his anticipation of opponents is simply a testament to the 21-year-old’s upbringing at La Masia. While raiding up-field his decision making may not always be ideal, his ability to cover large distances and situate himself according to different phases of play enables him to adjust into the team.
After neglecting academy graduates for years – unquestionably Barcelona’s most prized possession –, the academy has once again started to produce talents tailor-made for the Barcelona style. Oscar Mingueza is one of the many upcoming stars to have arrived at the first team, having already registered 25 matches.
A conundrum for the soon to be elected president would be the extension of Oscar Mingueza, who’s current deal lasts only till the end of this season. Despite reports suggesting that Real Betis have approached the player, the Blaugranas’ financial predicament and the spike in performances from this prodigy imply that he has warranted an extension and should continue to be relied upon. It’s becoming glaringly obvious that Mingueza has successfully surpassed the status of a fringe player.