Having finally secured the signing of Ousmane Dembele, Barcelona’s next dilemma is to determine how the Frenchman will fit into their team.
He’s likely to slot in for Neymar as a direct replacement, but manager Ernesto Valverde has a few options in terms of how the team will look with their new signing.
Ousmane Dembele’s specific playing position in the Barca team will be heavily influenced by coach Ernesto Valverde’s plans for Lionel Messi.
If, as currently seems likely, Valverde is planning to restore Messi to his old false nine position, Dembele will fit onto one of the flanks with Luis Suarez on the other side.
As Dembele can play on either wing, it could well be that Suarez has the choice of playing on left or right and he would probably prefer the latter, meaning Dembele takes Neymar’s old position on the left.
And the Frenchman would also stay on the left if Valverde seeks to simply repeat the ‘MSN’ formula with Suarez in the middle and Messi coming inside from the right.
One intriguing option open to Valverde is copying Real Madrid’s system of a narrow midfield diamond, with Sergio Busquets at the base, Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta controlling the middle and Messi at the point.
The formation would give Messi the freedom to play anywhere across the pitch as a ‘number ten’ creator, filling the same role as Isco at Madrid, while Dembele joins Suarez in a flexible forward duo.
This approach would be a bold departure for Barca but would suit the movement and creativity of their front three, while Jordi Alba and Nelson Semedo are the ideal kind of full-backs to provide the necessary attacking width.
Throughout his career Valverde’s stock formation has been 4-2-3-1, and there have been signs of that style already at Barcelona with Ivan Rakitic at times playing more closely to Sergio Busquets than in the past.
In this formation Dembele could play on either wing or ‘in the hole’ behind the centre forward, something Valverde has already noted his new signing is capable of doing.
But it’s most likely he would be positioned on a flank, and considering the lack of natural attacking width in the Barca squad we can almost certainly expect to see him spending the majority of the time as a winger.
French wonderkid Ousmane Dembele shrugged off comparisons with Neymar and insisted he still has much to learn, despite becoming the second most expensive player in history as he was presented by Barcelona on Monday.
The 20-year-old’s €105 million transfer from Borussia Dortmund could rise to €145 million with add-ons depending on his performance, as Barca splashed out to fill the gap left by Neymar’s own world record €222 million-euro move to Paris Saint-Germain.
“I’m not here to replace Neymar,” said the Frenchman.
“I will try to make good progress. I am only 20 years old and have a lot to learn. That’s why I came to this big club.”
Dembele will form a fearsome forward line alongside five-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez as Barca aim to wrestle the Champions League and La Liga titles back from rivals Real Madrid.
And Dembele expects to learn firsthand from Messi, who he described as the best player in history.
“It’s an honour to be a part of Lionel Messi’s team,” added Dembele.
“He’s a great player, the best player in the world, the best in the history of football and I am very happy to play in his team.
“I will learn, watch how he plays, and how he is on and off the field.”
Dembele’s Barca career got off to an inauspicious start as his presentation in front of 18,000 waiting fans at the Camp Nou was delayed for nearly two hours due to a paperwork issue in releasing his registration from Dortmund.
With the supporters’ patience tested there were whistles during the delay and chants for Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu to resign.
Barca’s board has been under huge pressure due to the club’s fading fortunes on the field and being caught cold by Neymar’s decision to leave.
The attendance was also well down on the 50,000 fans that welcomed Neymar on his presentation four years ago.
“With a player like Ousmane we have a competitive team that can aim, like every year, for the greatest success,” said Bartomeu.
Dembele finally emerged in Barca’s famous red and blue strip, sporting the number 11 jersey vacated by Neymar.
However, he will have to wait until at least September 9 to make his debut when Barca host Espanyol in a Catalan derby.
Dembele announced himself as one of Europe’s top prospects with a stellar season at Dortmund, scoring 10 goals, after joining from Rennes for just €15 million a year ago.
However, he had been suspended by Dortmund since he boycotted training on August 10 in protest after the German club rejected Barca’s first bid.
Dembele becomes Barca’s fifth signing of the summer after Marlon Santos, Gerard Deulofeu, Nelson Semedo and Paulinho.
And the Catalan giants intend on completing at least one more deal before the transfer window closes on Friday with Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho top of their wish list.
Coutinho, 25, hasn’t played for Liverpool since submitting a transfer request to try and force through a move earlier this month.
“My intention is that another player will come, if possible two,” said Barca sporting director Robert Fernandez.
Barcelona’s latest signing Ousmane Dortmund from Borussia Dortmund was presented to the fans at Camp Nou on Monday.
The 20-year-old forward passed his medical on Monday, visited the Ciutat Esportiva, then made his way to the Camp Nou, where he changed into the Blaugrana jersey and then made his way onto the field where fans were awaiting his arrival.
The club celebrated their new signing with the trend #DembeleDay on their social media accounts.
However, Dembele’s presentation didn’t go completely to plan. The former Borussia Dortmund star struggled with his control over the ball as he attempted a few keep ups in front of fans.
Real Madrid and Barcelona summer recruits don’t fancy a big unveiling do they?
Ousmane Dembele the latest…pic.twitter.com/cAfjkk2i0e
— Brendon Netto (@BrendonNetto) August 28, 2017
The 20-year-old isn’t the first to underwhelm at his presentation in Spain this summer though.
Theo Hernandez was less than impressive when he put his skills on display at the Bernabeu after completing his move from Atletico Madrid to Real Madrid.
— TikiTaka 🔵🔴 (@DamienRoperch) August 28, 2017
Meanwhile, Paulinho also had a tough time at his Camp Nou unveiling earlier this month.
Eventually though, Dembele did get his mojo back and produced a few neat touches as the conveniently edited video (below) from FC Barcelona’s official YouTube channel shows.
An excited Dembele said, “I’m delighted to find myself at the best club in the world. A dream come true and I’ll battle to win all the trophies I can,” at his presentation.