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.