Analysis: Is Memphis Depay capable of backing Robert Lewandowski up?

Barcelona have a tricky run to return to domestic action when they start up again – made all the more difficult by the fact they will be without star striker Robert Lewandowski.

The Polish striker was sent off in Barcelona’s final game before the World Cup, in a stunning 2-1 comeback victory against Osasuna. However as Lewandowski protested, he was adjudged to have made an offensive gesture towards the referee. It has resulted in an extra two games being added to what would have been a one-game ban.

In addition to missing the Barcelona derby against Espanyol on the 31st of December, Lewandowski is set to be absent for a trip to the Civitas Metropolitano against Atletico Madrid and then a Spanish Supercup semi-final against Real Betis the following midweek in Saudi Arabia. Arguably three of the most difficult fixtures on Barcelona’s calendar, it is understandably causing concern in Can Barca.

The conversation has turned to whom should replace him and how Barcelona should play. It seems unlikely that Xavi Hernandez would alter the system itself, rather he will be forced to opt for a different forward in Lewandowski’s stead.

Ansu Fati has been seeking more game time and can play through the middle, having been used there on occasion last season. Undoubtedly the most dangerous in the box after Lewandowski, the doubt will be whether he can hold the ball against physical central defenders.

Ferran Torres has also operated through the middle at times too. His expert movement tends to create chances and he would give Barcelona plenty of running, yet his struggles in front of goal make him a risky choice.

Perhaps the most obvious option is Memphis Depay. Barely playing in the first section of the season, due to injury and competition, his exit was assumed in the summer.

Many have assumed it again this winter. Todofichajes say that Xavi is keen to hang onto to him as a backup for Lewandowski, but the board would prefer to save money and attempt to sell Memphis this winter, with Chelsea, Newcastle United and Galatasaray all mentioned as interested parties. Interestingly, they also say that Fati and Torres’ futures are not assured.

Could Memphis do the job that Xavi will ask of him though? Memphis has played in the number nine role previously, but has struggled to have the same impact as he has off the left side.

His physical profile, quick in short bursts and extremely strong, lends itself to the position. The ability to hold the ball under pressure and the appreciation of space in tight areas also allows him to be handful in the box.

Equally, he can be prone to being crowded out and more frivolous touches in central areas, preferring to have the goal in front of him. Memphis’ best work for Barcelona and otherwise has exclusively come as part of a front two or from the left flank, where he has a degree of freedom. Asking the Dutchman to be the fixed point of an attack is yet to pay dividends.

If Xavi chooses to use Ousmane Dembele or Raphinha, Memphis might be wasted as a target for crosses, rather preferring to play wall passes and move in for cutbacks. So far the use of Lewandowski, who has operated as mobile target man so far, without wishing to limit the completeness of his skillset to a narrow role.

Memphis does have the qualities to operate there in theory, but Xavi would be the first to inspire consistent number nine play from the Dutchman. It may be that Xavi is more keen on retaining Memphis in order to operate close to Fati or Torres should they play as the furthest forward attacker, which might work better.

Tags Barcelona Chelsea Galatasaray Memphis Depay Robert Lewandowski
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