It would be fair to say that Ousmane Dembele has one hell of a task on his hands at Barcelona in replacing Neymar, a player who formed part of arguably the greatest front three of all time in MSN and played a crucial part in winning the club’s second-ever treble back in 2015. But if we are judging the young Frenchman on his talent and ability, he is definitely fit for the job.
The early signs have not been extraordinary, but certainly encouraging - Dembele assisted Luis Suarez’s goal in the 5-0 victory over Espanyol on Saturday and put in a solid performance in his first start for the Blaugrana, who are 6/1 to win the Champions League at 888sport, during their 3-0 win against Juventus midweek.
Despite the fact that Philippe Coutinho seemed to be Barca’s No 1 transfer target over the summer, Dembele is a player who fits into the Catalans’ starting XI more seamlessly, especially as a direct replacement for Neymar. Whether it be out on the left-hand side or alongside Luis Suarez in a more central position, the 20-year-old is similar to his predecessor with his gangly frame, lightening pace and array of tricks and flicks.
There is no doubting that Dembele will need to be given a period of adaptation in such a demanding environment and in a style of play that he is unfamiliar with, just as Neymar did when he signed from Santos in 2013. Although it depends on application and a willingness to learn and sacrifice, the Frenchman should not take as long to integrate, given that he has played two seasons of European football at Stade Rennais and Borussia Dortmund. He should definitely benefit from a greater footballing education than Neymar could rely on.
One thing that will help Dembele, like it did Neymar, is the form of Lionel Messi. To give an idea of just how well the Argentine is playing at the moment, in response to the excitement surrounding PSG’s new forward line, Sport proclaimed that ‘the best trident is… Messi, Messi, Messi.’ And who can disagree? Right now, the little genius is dragging his team through a difficult patch to ensure that results on the pitch remain impressive. He has started the campaign with eight goals in six games.
It might not necessarily be a healthy thing to be doing to rely so heavily on him, but as long as Messi continues in this vein of form, the pressure should be off Dembele for at least a little while. There are still aspects of his game that he quickly needs to improve upon, particularly his decision-making in the final third of the pitch. But playing with the likes of Messi, Suarez and Andres Iniesta will only help the France international grow and mature as a player, which is absolutely vital for him to succeed in Catalonia.
If Dembele can do this, there’s no reason why he cannot reach the levels that Neymar did while he was at Barca. The talent is there, but the hard work starts now. Neymar enjoyed toying with teams like Getafe - now it's the 20-year-old's turn on Saturday.