The French World Cup winner finished last season for the Catalan club with four goals and nine assists in 23 appearances.
In the summer of 2017, Neymar left Barcelona for a transfer fee worth €222m. The sudden departure of the Brazilian winger, who was considered the future flagbearer of the club, left a huge hole in their attack. An immediate need arose for a replacement. With a potential deal for Philippe Coutinho, their primary target, looking impossible. Thus, Barcelona turned their attention to Borussia Dortmund. and Ousmane Dembélé was signed for £135.5m.
When he arrived in Catalonia, Dembélé was touted as the next big thing at Camp Nou. He did show flashes of brilliance. His amazing solo effort against Villarreal in La Liga was a pure display of his strengths – pace, directness and skill. However, he was found wanting defensively on several occasions throughout his first season. It was this factor that forced Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde to bench him for important matches.
Dembélé didn’t start against Roma in the Champions League and did not even feature in games against Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. Moreover, he missed a major part of the season with an injury. At the end of the campaign, he had four goals and nine assists in 23 appearances. For Barcelona’s replacement for Neymar, these returns were not enough.
Watch: Ousmane Dembele’s performance last season
The 2018-19 season is very crucial for the French youngster. He needs to prove himself and establish himself as a star at the history-rich club. Dembélé needs to show both the team and the manager that he can be trusted to deliver in big matches. Consistency will be a key factor this term. If he needs to be a regular starter for one of the best clubs in the world, he will be required to deliver match-winning performances on a regular basis.
He would also need to put in shifts defensively and show maturity while making decisions on the field. Last season, his presence on the flanks created a lot of problems for opposition defenders, as they found it very difficult to match his pace and aggression with the ball. He was a major threat in attack whenever he was in possession, as he managed to draw defenders out and create mismatches in defense.
However, the former Dortmund man will be required to do a lot more than that this season. He will have to keep the ball more and prevent unnecessary turnovers in possession. His passing percentage improved significantly after his arrival at Barcelona, but it’s still lower than most of his teammates. He should continue to improve in that aspect as it will be extremely useful in Barcelona’s system.
He has to improve his shooting as well. Last season, he only managed to take 15 shots in 12 appearances with a conversion rate of 20%. Dembélé needs to add more facets and approaches to his already dangerous offensive game. The 21-year-old has the potential to be one of the all-time greats of the club. But, for that, he also needs to have the full trust and backing of both the manager and the players around him.
However, the arrival of Malcom offers very little breathing space for Dembélé. The former Bordeaux man plies his trade in the same position as Dembélé and this season could see them both competing for the starting spot. The Brazilian will take time to adjust to the style and pace of the Catalan team and Dembélé has a huge advantage which he can exploit. However, the new arrival will be looking to grab the first opportunity presented to him with open hands.
Malcom’s arrival has also sparked rumours regarding the future of the French youngster and reports seem to suggest that he could be sent out on loan. However, such a move would drastically stifle the winger’s development and also be a hit to his confidence. Considering the improvement he has undergone at Barcelona, it would mean taking a huge step backwards. His innate skill and wizardry on the ball have helped create moments of magic for Barcelona. Add to that, maturity and superior decision-making and the Blaugrana have a potential future Ballon d’Or nominee in Dembélé.
Watch: Ousmane Dembele’s performance Vs Sevilla in the Spanish Super Cup
The Super Copa Espana final against Sevilla is a small reminder of Dembélé’s abilities. He had an aggressive hunger for the ball and his pace and skill troubled opposition defenders, especially wing-back Jesus Navas, throughout the match. He even put in a shift defensively and repaid the trust shown in him by Valverde with a match-winning performance.
If the Sevilla match is a sign of things to come, both Barcelona and Dembélé should have no worries. But, any lapses could see his tenure at the club come to end. It is a ‘make or break’ season for Dembélé in Soain and he needs to give his 100% to the Catalan club’s cause.