Two Frenchmen turning on the heat is the best news Barcelona could have asked for. The duo of Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele are amongst the most targeted players since their arrival in recent seasons. Under Ronald Koeman, both have been immense for the Catalans fight across competitions.
Amongst the two, there is greater amazement towards the run of Ousmane Dembele. The quality of the youngster was never in doubt. Ever since he arrived from Borussia Dortmund, Dembele has shown numerous glimpses of his god gifted talent. The wingers ambipedality, blistering place, effortless dribbling and lightning-quick changes in direction were just some of the qualities Barcelona signed up for by his signing.
Yet, soon injuries became synonymous to the young talent. His every excellent performance preceded a setback in fitness. Every leap that seemed the kickstart he required was met with another injury. At a point, he had missed more games than he played for the Catalans.
Nevertheless, his quality was headline material. The world knows that on his day, the former Dortmund star can destroy oppositions. That day against Tottenham Hotspurs seemed to be the day he announced himself in grand style, however, we have witnessed so many potential breakout moments for Dembele.
After years of hope, prayers, heartbreak, promise, setbacks and fightbacks, could we finally be seeing the resurgence of Ousmane Dembele? Watching him at his best, finishing full games and making heavy impacts surely does bring tears to one’s eyes. He has been one of the most disrespected and targeted players in recent seasons, and there could be no better way for Dembele to silence his critics.
Credit to Ronald Koeman, the #11’s injuries seem to be a thing of the past. Though he did face the one setback this season, he has looked fitter than ever before. And one thing is clear, a fit Ousmane Dembele is a massive asset for Barcelona, and that is not even up for debate.
What the Frenchman provides to the side is unique in its way. It is a sense of disorder in the organised setup. A sudden spark that no one sees coming. Often, not even his teammates. Honestly, it is exactly what Barcelona require, given their predictable style of play.
When all bodies turn right, Dembele moves left. And that helps his cause. It not only throws off opposition defences but also produces that creative spark. A spark that more often than not leads to penetration of the fortress. Maybe he has not been as clinical in front of goal as one would expect, however one cannot deny the fact that he steps up when the team demands it.
The Frenchman’s game has grown leaps and bounds in various departments.
The reports of his disinterest for training and late arrivals have gone down. He is working harder than ever before. With priorities in the right order, he finally reaps fruits on the pitch. Many have come out to say that Dembele is the most active and terrifying in training sessions, and that just justifies the renewed focus.
The recent success can also be majorly credited to the boost in fitness. Ronald Koeman said he has special plans for Ousmane Dembele when he arrived, and he has stuck to his word. Thanks to a splendid job from the fitness team, the young winger is back at his best. He has started consecutive games for the Catalans and played them out completely. Indeed, a feat rarely seen up to this point. The fact that Dembele has even been able to complete 120 minutes without discomfort is testament to his physical condition. As long as he can keep up this level of fitness, there is no way for the Frenchman but upwards.
Now, he is a lethal weapon at his manager’s disposal, a gem in the artillery. After a slow start, he is now a sure starter in any major clash. In addition to providing a direct threat on goal, his ability to draw defenders makes him invaluable. The youngster’s style of play forces defenders to break their lines and give up their man-marking, often freeing other players like Leo Messi or Antoine Griezmann. To the collective, it is a trait that no other can offer.
Going forward, Dembele stares at one of the most crucial months of his Barcelona career. It could be a month that makes him an untouchable in the XI, with major clashes against PSG and in the cup ahead. With his fitness under his belt, it is high time for him to take a further step forward. He needs to take up leadership in the attack and be more actively involved on the scoresheet.
This is the version of Dembele that the world waited for so dearly, and the longevity is entirely in his hands. Consistency at this level could soon earn him a call-back into the national team, and a contract renewal with Barça. And that is where such a talent belongs, on the biggest stage in the world.
If played right, the Frenchman could have one of the brightest futures amongst today’s young crop of players. One wrong step again, however, could see him back on his past track. Dembele needs to walk the tightrope, however, it finally seems he has the right man to guide him.
A significant week in Barcelona for Lionel Messi’s future
It is a topic that gets the football world giddy. The fantasies of Lionel Messi playing in the Premier League, the formation of another star-studded front three alongside Neymar Jr. and Kylian Mbappe, and for the romantics, a return to Argentina is set in their hearts.
After the infamous events of the summer of 2020, now more than ever, the biggest legend of FC Barcelona looks closer than ever to leaving.
Many Barça fans feel that it could be a good thing that the six-time Ballon D’or winner leaves, bringing up the point that the Catalan side needs a hard restart next season and the idea of building a team around a 33-year-old does not seem logical, as it only benefits the near future.
This is a valid point and most likely comes from those who want not only the best for Barca but Messi as well, as Cúlers are not ignorant to the fact that the club cannot promise their beloved number ten the fifth Champions League trophy he craves in its current situation.
However, in an ideal world, Barça fans would want Messi to stay and win his fifth European Cup wearing Blaugrana and if that is to happen, the week that went by is the only decider on course for the club and player alike.
The Copa Del Rey comeback
In the interview with Jordi Évole on LaSexta last December, Lionel Messi stated that he “wanted to keep competing to win trophies.”
Two weeks ago, that desire for this season looked unlikely. Atletico Madrid had a sizeable lead over the Catalans in La Liga, Paris Saint-Germain built up a 1-4 lead in the Champions League, and Sevilla had a 2-0 advantage in the Copa del Rey.
The first of these tasks was addressed on Wednesday night, in what turned out to be a memorable night in the history of FC Barcelona. A 94th minute Gerard Pique header sent Barça into extra time, where Martin Braithwaite completed the comeback to send the Catalans through to the final 3-2 on aggregate.
The chance to win another trophy would no doubt have pleased Messi but it is the story of the match that will help keep the Argentine at the club next season.
If Messi stopped and looked around the Camp Nou on Wednesday night, he would have seen determination and heart from his teammates to keep going to the final whistle, an abundance of youthful talent performing at a level beyond their years, and world-class players such as Marc-Andre ter Stegen ready to step up when certain challenges emerged.
Throughout one night, all these combined into a sort of presentation to the Argentine, exhibiting the future of FC Barcelona and where the team is headed.
There is no denying that the gap between Barcelona and Europe’s elite is still large, but this performance showed the signs Messi has called for and that is something that can be noted down for the future.
The perfect Liga weekend
Looking ahead to the weekend, the second of Barcelona’s comeback missions received an encouraging boost.
The Catalan side were looking to go 16 games unbeaten in La Liga in a match against twelfth place Osasuna and a win would not only see them extend this run but close the gap on Atletico Madrid to just two points, albeit with two games in hand.
The importance of this weekend lied in Atletico’s game as they face city rivals Real Madrid. In an ideal world, Barça fans would hope that the spoils are shared in El Derbi allowing the Blaugrana side to gain points on both Madrid clubs.
Barcelona’s prayers were catered to, and not only did the Catalan giants pick up three ugly, yet important points from their encounter against Osasuna, the capital outfits had to settle for a draw. Playing the angel’s advocate, even if Atleti had come away with the three points, it would essentially narrow the title race to just two teams considering Los Colchoneros gap at the top.
From Lionel Messi’s point of view, winning the La Liga title from the position Barça found themselves in a few weeks back would be a huge encouragement to stay for another season, especially if it is accompanied by the Copa del Rey. The Argentine has been part of teams that let leads slip over the last three seasons and to flip the script on that, would ultimately show progress.
The Presidential election
The final act of the week was the 2021 Presidential Election, where the next president of FC Barcelona was chosen on Sunday night. Joan Laporta, Victor Font, and Toni Freixa were the three candidates fighting for Barça’s top spot, and all have addressed the situation of Lionel Messi throughout their campaigns.
Joan Laporta had emerged as the favourite for a second spell, and like everyone suspected, the Spaniard swayed the elections, coming on top as the winner. Ideally, it would have a significant impact on the future of La Pulga, as Messi showed up to vote for the elections for the first time in his life. In fact, Laporta went on to claim that Leo congratulated him on the night. His renewal will be one of the many hurdles Laporta will have to jump over.
Throughout the presidential campaign, it has been rumoured that Messi will not stay if Joan Laporta does not win. Laporta himself fuelled these rumours on Tuesday during the last of the Presidential debates.
The Spaniard stated, “If I don’t win, I am sure that Leo will not stay at Barcelona”.
“If I don’t win, I am sure that Leo will not stay at Barcelona. “Messi will weigh up the offer we make him. I’m convinced that if the other candidates win, Messi will not remain at Barcelona. He wasn’t happy during Freixa’s time on the board.”Joan Laporta in the presidential debate
If these feelings are believed to be true, the future of Lionel Messi could take a dramatic twist on Sunday.
Having said all this, Lionel Messi’s future could come down to one simple desire, to win a fifth European Cup. At 33 years old, the Argentine does not have time on his side in this pursuit, and it could be years before Barcelona can compete for Europe’s top prize again.
With ready-made teams such as Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain waiting on the side-lines, the final decision in June could come down to this week — if this week does not make it for the six-time Ballon d’Or winner, there is little chance anything else will.