There are many explanations behind Barcelona’s big recent improvement which yielded three consecutive away wins in the space of a week.
Firstly, a settled side, based on a solid midfield where Sergio Busquets is partnered by a bang in-form Frenkie de Jong and the outstanding Pedri.
In attack Lionel Messi has recaptured his scoring form and Antoine Griezmann is starting to look confident and comfortable.
At the other end, the defence has cut out the silly needless mistakes that proved so costly earlier in the season.
They are all significant factors, but none of them are more so than the outstanding form of Ousmane Dembele, a player who has always looked capable of being a difference-maker for the Blaugrana and is now finally doing so.
Dembele has, of course, suffered a torrid time with injuries since his big-money move from Borussia Dortmund in August 2017, rarely going more than a few weeks without being sidelined.
But now he is back, and Barca’s winning week on the road was the first time he has started three consecutive games since April 2019.
Dembele is making the most of the chances he is being given by Ronald Koeman. He has produced a healthy number of goals and assists, and has been creating more than his fair share of chances.
More than just those stats, though, Dembele is also contributing through his positional play. Messi’s move to a central position has allowed him to take up his preferred role on the right wing, where his willingness to occupy the wide areas provides valuable width to stretch the opposition defence.
This was illustrated by Barca’s fourth goal at Granada on Saturday. Dembele held his position on the right wing, giving Sergio Busquets a good passing option. When the ball was delivered Busquets, it had the effect of attracting defenders to him. That created space at the near post for Griezmann to make a run, and Dembele had the quality to pick out his compatriot who did the rest with a brilliant angled finish.
On the ball, Dembele’s prime asset is his scorching pace and unpredictable change of direction, giving him an ability to penetrate defences and create danger by running with the ball – shown by the fact that he has made more dribbles per 90 minutes than even Messi.
And when he gets into dangerous positions, an underappreciated aspect of Dembele’s skill set is his ability to use either foot. He is one of the most two-footed players you will see anywhere, demonstrated by the fact that so far this season he has made 223 passes with his left foot, and 198 with his right. These are incredibly balanced numbers, and make him much harder to defend because it’s impossible to predict which way he will go.
Perhaps the most important stat of them all is Dembele’s level of participation. He is having more touches in the attacking third than any other Barca player except Messi, showing that he is a fully integrated and highly involved member of the team’s attacking play.
There has never been any doubts over Ousmane Dembele’s talent, only his availability. But he is now arguably in the best form of his Camp Nou career, clearly trusted by his coach and his teammates. If – and yes, it’s a big if – he can stay fit, he will continue to play a major role in the Camp Nou revival.