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Analysis

Ousmane Dembélé at Dortmund: The definition of a wonderkid

Alexandre Patanian

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Header Image by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno via Getty Images

With the Bundesliga restarting this weekend, let’s take a look at the four current azulgrana players to have played in the German league. Ousmane Dembélé and his wonderful spell at Borussia Dortmund did not disappoint, as it preceded his subsequent move to Barcelona.


Fans often overhype many young players because of their age. They think youngsters should start every game and they will develop just like that. However, some talents are genuinely amazing when they play and deserve the praise they get after outstanding performances. In our generation, many footballers were highly regarded before falling off the face of the Earth after some time. Promising prospects like Adel Taarabt or Bojan Krkić are now playing their trade for smaller clubs than people imagined they would play for. Bojan excited every culé, and his debut campaign encouraged the blaugrana faithful a lot. But, after unsuccessful loan spells where he couldn’t showcase his talents properly mainly because of injuries, he was released from his boyhood club.

Nonetheless, Bojan’s talent doesn’t compare to Ousmane Dembélé‘s superb ability and obvious potential. The winger is one of the four current Barcelona players to have played in the Bundesliga. Dembélé was the definition of a wonderkid at Borussia Dortmund. After a superb debut course for Stade de Rennes, the Frenchman, a Barça supporter, decided to go step by step despite the big clubs’ interest. At the Signal Iduna Park, Ousmane took the world by storm. Far from his injury-prone self, the electric winger was one of the main men in attack, absolutely annihilating Bundesliga defences with his explosiveness and skills. Many fans would have fallen in love with the sport had they watched Ousmane Dembélé in his solitary season in Germany. Before Jadon Sancho came into life at Dortmund, they had a gem that destroyed the assist charts in the Bundesliga with twelve assists to his teammates.

Ousmane Dembélé Borussia Dortmund Bundesliga

A sensation in the Bundesliga and a winner of the DFB-Pokal, Dembélé was on fire as a teenager in Germany | Photo by Lars Baron / Bongarts via Getty Images

His best moment came in the DFB-Pokal, where the powerful Bayern got a taste of his skills as he destroyed the Bavarians’ defence with his trademark crochet. This sublime skill, which he masters to perfection, was used to dismantle Bayern before scoring an absolute belter in Manuel Neuer’s top corner. After that supreme goal, the media in France, mainly L’Équipe, began talking about Dembélé’s ceiling and comparing him to his friend Kylian Mbappé. The hype over the former Rennes youngster was tangible. European giants then began scrutinising his performances to get a better look at him.

It’s fair to say that Dembélé hasn’t found his feet at the Camp Nou, and that’s mainly due to recurring injuries. Nevertheless, his style was obviously more suited to Tuchel’s Dortmund than to Valverde’s Barcelona, and the drastic stylistic change at the Camp Nou with Setién could improve his displays in Spain. Under Tuchel’s more direct football, Dembélé completely understood his role and was the focal point of the attack with his pace enabling counter-attacks to feed the strikers. Accompanied by his friend Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, another pacey forward, he was devastating in the final third as defenders could not keep up with his blistering speed and quality.

In a difficult season for everyone involved with the Yellow Wall, Ousmane was a bright spot. The horrible terrorist attack before their Champions League quarter-final against Monaco marked the 2016/17 campaign at Dortmund, as Marc Bartra was injured in this terrible incident, but they showed the former Barça defender respect by giving their all every match. Dembélé’s hunger for success, despite continuous setbacks, still follows him nowadays at Barcelona.

Ousmane Dembélé Borussia Dortmund Barcelona

Expectations were high when Dembélé was signed to replace Neymar in 2017 | Photo by Lluis Gene / AFP via Getty Images

Also, the Bundesliga’s love for electric youngsters and their style made him win the league’s Rookie of the Season as he obliterated defenders left, right and centre. His campaign at Dortmund made him Barça’s replacement for Neymar, and it’s bizarre how he currently gets injured a lot more at the Camp Nou than at the Signal Iduna Park. Hopefully, Setién’s interest in the player, as he has touted him as a new signing, reverts the 23-year-old’s fortunes. Setién’s positive brand of football could fit him way more, and he is expected to be much more effective in the Cantabrian coach’s system.

That said, Dortmund will always look back at Ousmane’s spell with pride as he achieved unreal things in the Bundesliga. Dembélé’s time with Die Borussen may well be his favourite in his short career. The winger made the headlines and some friends there too, as he’s still close to Aubameyang even if they have parted ways and put BVB behind them. Now, the youngster’s goal is to go back to this sort of form in Catalonia. If he is played in a role that suits him, and if Setién has faith in him, he should succeed. His talent is clear and the Frenchman is an outstanding player on his day. That’s why culés plan on keeping him this summer.


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• Ronaldo Nazário: His interim time at Barcelona

As a Lebanese teenager who never had the chance to support their local team, I fell in love with the club that was FC Barcelona at the start of the decade. I always was passionate about writing and this is exactly what I am looking for: sharing my insights and opinions on football.

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Analysis

How Zidane’s Real Madrid beat Koeman’s Barcelona

Anurag Agate

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Photo via Imago

The highly anticipated day of El Clasico, the clash of eternal rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid finally arrived. The Blaugrana were just two points ahead of Los Blancos with the same number of games played. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid are at their most vulnerable right now; recent losses to Sevilla and Chelsea had already demoralized the team. Additionally, Luis Suarez – their top scorer -, is injured.

El Clasico has incredible importance on its own. Add to that the fact that it will be pivotal in the title race, and it becomes apparent how much it means to both sides. In this tactical analysis, we take a look at how Real Madrid managed to conquer Barcelona in a 2-1 victory.

The systems

Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona lined up in a 3-5-2 as expected. This formation is one that has contributed to Barcelona’s recent positive results significantly. Though this could be viewed as a 5-3-2 or even a 3-5-2-1 at times, the basic principles remained the same. Barcelona would look to build up from the back. The backline of Ronald Araujo with Clement Lenglet and Oscar Mingueza on either side of him was the platform upon which the team would build-up.

In midfield, Sergio Busquets would be the deepest player, with Frenkie De Jong and Pedri Gonzalez as the two interiors. These two youngsters would operate in the half-spaces as their roles entail, but they would drop back and join the attack as well. Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest, the two wing-backs, would look to stretch the opposition and would be positioned high up the field.

In attack, Lionel Messi was joined by Ousmane Dembele. The Frenchman would operate through the centre as Messi would usually drop back and have the freedom to move across the pitch.

Zinedine Zidane has often been labelled as someone who manages big egos well but doesn’t have tactical expertise. Purely a misconception, this match was an example of how well the retired midfielder sets up his team. What was most admirable was how Zidane finds the perfect role for his players’ profiles.

Real Madrid were deployed in a 4-1-4-1. Casemiro would play between the lines, with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos just ahead oh him. This formation could also be viewed as a 4-5-1, which would be a 4-3-3 when attacking. In defence, Eder Militao and Nacho were the centre-halves with Lucas Vasquez and Ferland Mendy as the full-backs. To support the midfield as well as the attack, Vinicius Junior and Fede Valverde would act as wide midfielders.

Karim Benzema, the number nine, would drift into the channels or drop a bit deeper as required. He was the key to Madrid’s fluid attack. There would be a constant staggering between Benzema, Vinicius, and Valverde. When Benzema dropped deep to fight for the second ball, Vinicius and Fede would move forward and provide passing options. At times, Vasquez would overlap, which was Valverde’s cue to drop back. The players would also switch roles.

Madrid’s defensive organization

After getting a lead, Real Madrid were still proactive but to a lesser extent than earlier. They would even have five players defending at times, transitioning into a 5-4-1. Their timing and organization was impressive nonetheless. As we see in the image above, Ousmane Dembele is about to receive the pass. Immediately, Casemiro presses him, while other players start moving forward to close the distance to possible passing options. This meant Barcelona had little time on the ball deep in Madrid’s half.

The pressing shown by Los Blancos was very fine-tuned. The players were unsurprisingly not hesitant to play a physical game as well. As the earlier image shows us, Ousmane Dembele would receive the ball ahead of the defense and attempt to involve other players. Pedri and de Jong were the most obvious passing options. However, for them, the passing would more often than not be out wide. This was forced due to Madrid’s structure which prevented them from playing through the middle.

Arguably one of Barcelona’s strongest moves is when Messi plays Jordi Alba through between the full-back and centre-halves. Though it was effective at some points in the match, this was clearly something Zidane expected. When either full-back would have crossing options, the full-backs would look to block the cross.

Simultaneously, the centre-halves would track Barcelona’s attackers Messi and Dembele. These two being the only two forwards, Mingueza’s goal was one of the few times the team actually had more players looking to attack. Casemiro would be in the box looking to clear the ball or cover for any defensive holes.

What went wrong for Barcelona?

Ronald Koeman’s team selection was well-thought-out. Shifting de Jong to midfield was a smart choice. However, as the scoreline clearly shows, some issues persisted.

One of the main ones being the lack of attackers in the final third. This was a formation with two attackers on paper, but one of them was Messi. Expecting the argentine to make runs off the ball and act as a target man is highly unrealistic. He does best when he’s on the ball. This would leave Dembele alone upfront. The Frenchman isn’t a classic number 9 who takes shots on the swivel and can establish himself in the box. Against a defence that was sitting very deep, he was unable to run onto the ball between the full-backs and centre-halves the way he likes to.

The image above shows a common scenario observed in the first half. Receiving the ball in the final third, Dembele turns to face the defenders. As they don’t lunge in, rather trying to contain him. he is unable to beat them in a 1v1. There is plenty of space with no Barcelona players highlighted in the image. This lack of attackers was one of the reasons Koeman switched to the 4-3-3. Shown below, the 4-3-3- allowed Pedri and Dembele to be more involved.

Statistical analysis

Below, we have a visualization showing the PPDA stats for both teams. A lower PPDA means a higher pressing intensity. As we can see, Barcelona were clearly pressing much more than Real Madrid throughout the match. Despite this, they failed to create enough chances. To demonstrate this, we can observe the xG graph.

As the xG graph shows, there were some situations when the Catalans had a chance to change the score-line in their favour. Among other reasons, Dembele’s inability to play as a striker and inefficiency in finishing was clearly affecting the team. The visualization below the xG graph shows the shot map. It further reaffirms the observation that Barcelona need to improve in front of the goal and in terms of the quality of chances created.

With a higher number of shots, Barcelona still had a lower xG than their rivals. Another indication of low-quality chances is the size of the circles in the box for both teams. The smaller the circle, the less likely it is to end up in the back of the net. The stark contrast is one of the many indicators that there are major issues to be resolved in attack for Koeman’s side.

Conclusion

This loss will hurt Barcelona, even more so as it strengthens the notion that his team doesn’t show up in big matches. If Koeman’s side wants to be Champions, now is the time to give their all. One cannot ignore the fact that the Blaugrana have a lot of work to do to be deserving of the La Liga title. Whether or not they will be able to do this remains to be seen.

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