Sparkling this Sunday with a goal and three assists against Athletic Bilbao, Ousmane Dembélé feasted the eyes of Barça fans. Now four weeks before the start of the World Cup, the tricolor international asserts himself as an attacking leader capable of the worst, but also of the best for his team. The brand of players who make the difference?
This Sunday evening on the lawn of Camp Nou, Ernesto Valverde must have thought that life was damn bad. 1er May 2019, the Basque is the coach of Barça and faces Liverpool in the first leg of the Champions League. And while his team dominates the Reds thanks to a stratospheric Leo Messi, the Argentinian took advantage of a final counter-attack to put the English defense at bay and served his teammate Ousmane Dembélé on a plateau to score the 4-0 goal. But on said action, Dembouz is clumsy, transforming this golden opportunity into a godsend for Alisson Becker, very happy to recover the ball effortlessly in his gloves. Two and a half years later, Valverde suffered the violent slap of the return match at Anfield (4-0), was fired by Barça a few months later, found a job on the bench of Athletic Club Bilbao this summer and faced Dembélé. And this time, for their reunion, The Mosquito (the mosquito, in VF) stung four times to charge a goal and three assists during a Barça recital (4-0).
Xavi: “That’s why I wanted him to stay”
In a press conference after the meeting, El Txingurri (the ant) praised his former footballer without sourness. “Dembélé is a world-class player, that’s how it is. He moved to Barça, injuries are part of his past, and he plays regularly. It can be seen very quickly that he is important within this collective. When Barça come out of a pressure zone and the ball reaches their field of action, it’s a guarantee. When he finds himself in one against one, he is able to squirt from one side to the other and spin towards the goal. The most important thing is that he has time to rest. » If the last sentence can make you smile when you know the liabilities of the former Rennais and his conflicting relationship with his awakening, the real meaning is quite different. Under the leadership of Valverde, Dembélé was considered the successor of Neymar and had to assume this heavy heritage at just twenty years old.
Despite flashes like his goals against Tottenham, Chelsea or Juventus in C1, five years of adaptation will have been necessary for Dembélé to become an attacking taulier of Barça. A period that may legitimately seem too long to keep a footballer in his squad, but Xavi Hernández has always kept faith in Dembouz. And today, the Catalan coach is reaping the fruits of this renewed collaboration this summer. “Dembele played a complete matchin turn explained the Maquina after the meeting. Everything smiled at him. In football, the decisions made by wingers are often all or nothing, and there everything smiled on Ousmane. There are days when he struggles more, but tonight he was amazing. He must try to repeat this kind of evenings more often. That’s why I wanted him to stay. »
All or nothing: it is ultimately a rather revealing synthesis of Dembélé’s career at Barça since his signing in 2017. Ghostly during the first leg against Inter then scorer on the return, invisible during the Classico then rested against Villarreal, the number 7 exploded his counter against Athletic, becoming the first Barcelona to register three assists and a goal in a single game since Luis Suárez in 2019. Here he is now at four goals and seven offerings in fifteen matches in all competitions in 2022-2023, a satisfactory balance sheet without being fantastic. But above all, the competition of Ansu Fati, Ferran Torres or Raphinha allow Dembouz to avoid an injury linked to overuse, having for example started on the bench against Celta or Villarreal recently. In the France team, the winger is also coming back in force: recalled to the last rally after more than a year away from Clairefontaine, the ex-Borussia was entitled to eleven minutes of frolic against Austria, and should be part of from the list of Didier Deschamps on November 9. In Qatar, the mosquito could therefore take advantage of the high temperatures to claim new victims.
By Antoine Donnarieix