Barcelona’s record signing Ousmane Dembele picked up an injury on Saturday which could see him out for up to four months. It’s a big blow for the Catalan club but one man, in particular, could benefit from this news.
Dembele’s long-term absence could give Spanish winger Gerard Deulofeu the chance to fulfill his potential at Barcelona. He has been at the club all summer and can take the former Dortmund winger’s place and make sure he is not missed too much.
Deulofeu will be the first choice replacement given the pace and direct running he can offer, both attributes which Ernesto Valverde was desperate to bring to the squad after Neymar’s departure.
In the summer, Barcelona and Valverde decided that if they could not bring both Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele to the Camp Nou, then the latter from Dortmund would be their priority.
Coutinho would be a crowd-pleaser and would bring a bit of flair to the team but Dembele, on the other hand, offers what no one else could. No one else apart from Deulofeu who now has the chance to demonstrate his capabilities.
Deulofeu has had a very stop-start career since his Barcelona youth days. He made his first team debut at the age of 17 under Pep Guardiola after several impressive seasons in the youth academy. The following season he want back to the Barca B team and shined, but flattered to deceive during spells at Sevilla and Everton and was replaced by players like Alexis Sanchez, Luis Suarez and Neymar.
He came back to the Camp Nou this summer very much as a back-up to Neymar. Even when the Brazilian star left for PSG there was no suggestion that the 23-year-old Spanish winger would step up to replace him, but now he has a chance.
Ernesto Valverde has other options in Denis Suarez, Rafinha and Arda Turan but none of them can offer the pace which Deulofeu can. Aleix Vidal does have the pace but he has been left out of the recent squad’s all together after failing to impress on the wing or at full-back and so it looks unlikely he will feature heavily during Dembele’s lay-off.
This means Deulofeu will likely see a lot of game time between now and the end of the year. Dembele could miss up to 25 games if his injury keeps him out for four whole months.
This includes the entire Champions League group stage, including a trip to Turin to face Juventus in December, as well as crucial trips to Atletico and Real Madrid in the league.
The injury is heartbreaking for Dembele, who will have to wait to prove he is worth the £135m spent on him, but it now falls to Deulofeu to provide the blistering pace to put teams on the back foot and open games up like the French winger would have aimed to do.
For the first time in his Barcelona career Deulofeu is first choice, and he has the chance to fulfil the potential which Guardiola first saw in him six years ago.