French forward, the club's record signing, is expected to miss up to four months with a hamstring injury sustained against Getafe.
Dembele injury a major blow but Barcelona still have plenty of options in attack
"Broken!" screamed the front page of Monday’s Barcelona based Sport over a picture of Barca’s record €145 million (Dh637m) signing Ousame Dembele. “He won’t play until 2018.”
Making his first start for the Catalans, the 20-year-old French striker limped off after 28 minutes before his side fought back from 1-0 down to win 2-1 at an excellent Getafe, with fellow new signing and substitute – and Dembele’s fellow hotel mate – Paulinho getting an 84th minute winner.
The bad news was confirmed by the club on Monday, who stated that the striker had flown to Helsinki where he will undergo surgery to repair a rupture of the tendon in his left thigh on Tuesday.
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The doctor, Sakari Orova, is a tendon specialist who also operated on David Beckham, Marco van Basten, Pep Guardiola, Jonathan Woodgate plus champion runner Haile Gebreselassie.
It’s the first significant injury of Dembele’s career and he was a near ever present for Borussia Dortmund last season. His club expect him to be out for three-and-a-half to four months.
The first of those games will be Tuesday night’s Primera Liga match against Eibar at Camp Nou. It’s a game synonymous with goals, with Barca scoring 10 times in the three visits Eibar have made. Barca have also won their three away matches at the tiny Basque club.
Dembele’s absence is a significant blow to Barcelona who haven’t been adverse to set-backs during the close season, from the departure of Neymar, who also suffered his first Barca injury at Getafe in 2014, to the failure to land Philippe Coutinho and being outclassed home and away in the Spanish Super Cup.
Then the season proper started and everything began to go right.
While Real Madrid were drawing their first two home games, Ernesto Valverde’s Barca have won their opening four league matches and defeated Juventus 3-0 in the Uefa Champions League. Barca have scored 11 and conceded only that one goal at Getafe.
Against an Eibar side who have won two and lost two of their games so far, Barca will look again to the Primera Liga’s leading scorer Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, though the latter was poor, like many of his teammates, at Getafe on Saturday.
Messi and Suarez both scored in the equivalent fixture last season as Barca won 4-2. Barca also have Gerard Deulofeu and Denis Suarez. They have Arda Turan and Paco Alcacer too, but Turan, who was so effective at Atletico Madrid, has not played a minute so far this season.
The man who Luis Enrique chose as back up to Neymar was on the bench for the opening game, but back trouble has prevented him from featuring since.
Alcacer did start Barca’s opening league game against Betis before Dembele made his debut, and while he prefers to play as a central striker, he can play on the left of a front three.
Barca have absolute confidence in Dembele returning in the new year and have no plans to buy another striker in the January transfer window. While the team continues winning, there will be little alarm.
The forthcoming league fixtures of Eibar at home, Girona away and Las Palmas at home won’t be the most challenging of the season and will provide a chance for the other strikers to step up and convince.
That is, after all, what a squad is for and given that Dembele has only played 122 minutes for his new club so far, it’s not like Barca fans know what they are missing yet.