French winger has endured a tough debut season due to injury but his two-goal, man of the match display on Wednesday showed his talent
Ousmane Dembele showed against Villarreal he has the hallmarks of a Barcelona legend in the making
With five minutes to play in Barcelona’s 5-1 league win against Villarreal, Camp Nou’s crowd was singing for Ousmane Dembele to the tune of France’s Marseillaise.
The 20-year-old Frenchman was putting in a great performance in only his 10th league start of his fledgling Barcelona career which was about to get even better.
Injury had meant Dembele who usually plays on the right, missed four months of the season after signing in August just before the end of the transfer window from Borussia Dortmund for €100 million (Dh436m), making him football’s second most expensive player.
Eight of his starts have come since the end of February and while Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez or Andres Iniesta usually make the headlines, Dembele is now settling in effectively.
His prospects for next season are exceptionally good, especially if he can produce the same magic he turned on in those last five minutes on Wednesday. Dembele finished a game where he was man of the match by scoring twice, his first a tap in after a superb individual piece of play by Ivan Rakitic. Dembele’s second will be talked about for decades and demonstrates why Barca fans hope he will become established as a club legend.
Receiving the ball in his own half after 93 minutes, Dembele ran at and through the Villarreal defence, slowing only to chip the ball over goalkeeper Asenjo as he reached the penalty area. Barca’s smallest league crowd of the season – 54,743 – saluted him in song a second time, as he finished a frustrating season in some style.
Dembele, who doubled his goals total for the season, is looking comfortable in a Barca shirt and in the team’s system, one which has yielded 90 league points and 94 goals with two games to play. The Catalans need to avoid defeat in their remaining two games to become the first Spanish side to remain unbeaten for an entire Primera Liga season.
Barca’s No 11 looked relaxed as he spoke to fellow new signing Philippe Coutinho in the tunnel at half-time as Barca led 3-0 against Spain’s sixth best team. He had assisted Coutinho for his side’s first goal after 11 minutes, jigging back and forward to lose four men before running forward and shooting from outside the penalty area. Sergio Asenjo pushed the shot into the path of Coutinho to tap in.
There is a refreshing directness about Dembele and his desire to run at opponents. He is slight and weighs only 67 kilograms, but this means he is lightning quick and full of tricks.
“Dembele’s an incredible talent,” said his manager Ernesto Valverde, who was criticised for not playing him in his side’s 3-0 Uefa Champions League defeat in Rome last month. “He has technique, he is fast, he has flow. He’s young and has lots of time ahead. I have high hopes for him next season.”
That would suggest that Barca have no intention of letting him leave on loan as once seemed the case. While fans and his teammates have long been supportive of him, the former Stade Rennais player looked overpriced when he signed after two seasons in Dortmund, a panic buy after Neymar joined Paris Saint-Germain.
Dembele looked raw and overawed in those few early games before a thigh rupture at Getafe in September. He returned at Celta Vigo in a January Copa del Rey game for an awkward, error strewn 18 minute appearance. He was then injured again as Barca’s main men continued to lead the title charge.
Against Villarreal, Messi was again a star, his link up play with Iniesta as good as ever. Too many Barca fans are sad to see Iniesta, 33, leave at the end of the season, but he has made his mind up and Barca have bought Coutinho for a transfer fee that surpassed that of Dembele.
Coutinho has settled quickly and has been involved in nine goals in his past 10 Barca games, with four goals and five assists.
Barca also have Gremio’s 21-year-old midfielder Arthur arriving in the summer, and continue to agitate – and annoy – Atletico Madrid over Antoine Griezmann.
And, on the right, they have Dembele. It’s going to be a challenge to fit them all in around Messi, but a challenge any manager in world football would like.
Dembele takes corners and against Villarreal he beat Denis Cheryshev, once a highly rated youngster with Real Madrid, with a trick after 19 minutes to earn a roar of approval before he was pulled back and fouled.
Dembele combined well with those around him, chiefly Coutinho and right back Nelson Semedo behind him. He was capable of playing quick one touch football with Iniesta and combining with Messi. He ticked through 1,000 minutes of Barca first team football against Villarreal. His prospects look excellent, but he has plenty of competition for a first team spot.