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Analysis

Ousmane Dembélé: Is the serious business finally about to start?

Lewis Shankie

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Header Image by Aitor Alcalde via Getty Images

After three long campaigns plagued by injury, many hope that Ousmane Dembélé can overcome these issues in the 2020/21 season. The young Frenchman has exceptional talent and, on his day, can change the outcome of the match at any moment.


As the second most expensive player in the club’s history, Ousmane Dembélé has not lived up to his price tag yet. Having missed the majority of matches at Barcelona due to injury, it has been a frustrating time for both the player and culés.

There is no doubting the winger’s talents, but Ousmane Dembélé must prove his worth in this upcoming 2020/21 season. He has the potential to be one of the world’s best if he can stay injury-free, but will he achieve it? When he has managed to stay fit, Dembélé has been one of the most decisive players at the club, but many conditions have to be met for that to happen.

The injury problems

It is almost impossible to discuss Dembélé’s time at the Camp Nou without mentioning his injury problems. Before joining Barcelona, the pacey winger was only injured for a total of 10 days during his time at Borussia Dortmund. Then, with his move to the Spanish giants, injuries have stacked up.

According to Transfermarket, Ousmane has missed a total of 80 games due to injuries since joining in the summer of 2017. In terms of days out injured, this amounts to 512 days unavailable in just three terms. Although injuries are common in football, it is the frequency and length of Dembélé’s that are the issue. At the most important times of the season, the club has not been able to rely on him.

Questions should be asked on why the injuries started mounting up when he arrived in Barcelona. It is the same recurring injuries that are affecting the former Rennes youngster. The predominant ones are involving his hamstring and muscles. These can be serious and, without the proper treatment and recovery, can haunt a player through his full career regardless of the talent that once mesmerised the world and terrorised the opposing defences.

What Dembélé can offer

Though these injuries have been a cause of much frustration, there have been enough flashes of brilliance to convince the club to keep their faith in him. When the 23-year-old has managed to have a consistent run in the team his form continues to grow. The fake shot king can be one of the most exciting players to watch at his best. His incredible pace and dribbling can be a real asset to Barça in unlocking tight defences.

Dembélé has scored some incredible goals at the club already. His goals in the Champions League against Tottenham and his thunderbolt winner against Sevilla in the 2018 Spanish Super Cup are real standouts. Being just as strong with his left foot as his right, this allows him to play on the left or right wing effectively. By April 2019 he had achieved the incredible record of having 14 goals and 14 assists with both his right foot and left foot.

So far, the Frenchman has played a total of 74 games for Barcelona, scoring 19 and assisting 16 times. It shows that he can create and score goals. Thus, ahead of the 2020/21 season, Ousmane Dembélé could be an important player for the team if he can stay fit. He could be key in taking some of the pressure from Lionel Messi in terms of having to create and score the goals for Barça.

Ousmane Dembélé 2020/21 season Barcelona

With the likes of Ansu Fati, Francisco Trincão, Antoine Griezmann and Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembélé will face tough competition this year | Photo by David Ramos via Getty Images

When watching Dembélé play for the Catalan side there are several impressive attributes that also stand out, apart from his pace and dribbling. One of these is his ability to drag in two or three defenders to try and contain him. This creates a lot more space for others to exploit, especially Messi. Barça have particularly struggled against teams that play a low block and Dembélé could be the player to help break these defences.

Another attribute he posses is a good connection with Messi. When Barça’s number 11 is on form, he connects well with the Argentinian. They have a good understanding of each other’s game. With Luis Suárez‘s departure from the Camp Nou, Messi will be looking for others to connect with in attack. Both are creative and can pick out difficult passes.


The 2020/21 season, already his fourth at the club, will be the most important in the Barcelona career of the still young Ousmane Dembélé. If another long-term injury strikes, then it is likely patience will run out with him. He can make basic mistakes such as misplacing simple passes, being out of position and lacking composure in front of goals. He does return from injuries rusty and the ball bounces off him or his control lets him down at times.

But the potential the winger has when he plays is endless. Dembélé is a special player and could be a generational talent if able to play regularly. If he can stay injury-free, he could be the second most important player at the club, after Messi. One of the most enjoyable players to watch on his day, Dembélé needs to perform this season and fulfil his potential.

Football is the greatest sport in the world. There is no sporting event that is watched more and is as passionately followed. Any football fan should try and watch Barcelona to understand how football should be played. At Barcelona, football is all about keeping the ball, movement, passing and playing great football above all else. I am a Barça fan from Scotland and have been following the team for over a decade now. I have been lucky enough to watch possibly the greatest era on football ever, and hope it continues.

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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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