Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS
Ousmane Dembele is a World Cup winner, though you’d be forgiven for forgetting so. The former Borussia Dortmund winger played only 166 minutes in France’s campaign in Russia, providing neither a goal nor an assist.
Just a few months ago, however, Dembele was tipped as one of the crown jewels in France’s national side, but eventually lost his place due to a change of formation by Didier Deschamps, as target man Olivier Giroud came to the fore.
Having missed out at national level for a starting spot, he now sees his domestic position under threat too, after Brazilian starlet Malcom joined Barcelona from Bordeaux.
Dembele had a stop-start beginning to his time in Catalonia, with two separate injuries keeping him out of the squad for significant stretches of the season. Although he is still a brilliant player, you can’t help but feel that his stock has dropped in the last few months, with Barcelona and France both denying the 21-year-old significant playing time.
Malcom, on the contrary, is enjoying his meteoric rise. After a stunning season in Ligue 1, he was on the verge of joining AS Roma before Barcelona hijacked the move at the last minute to convince Bordeaux to sell to the La Liga club.
So what does all this mean for Barcelona and their starting XI? Who will get the nod in Valverde’s team next year?
The case for Dembele
Just one season at a European giant was enough to convince Barcelona that Dembele was worth €105 million plus €40 million in add-ons. With Dortmund, he scored six goals and provided an astonishing 12 assists domestically, and two goals and six assists in the Champions League.
With figures like that, it’s easy to see why Barcelona were so interested in the Frenchman, but some think they were overzealous in their pursuit of Dembele, and should have left him to develop for another year in the Bundesliga.
Dembele has been an exciting player for Barcelona. In their quarter-final Champions League match against Roma last season, the Catalan club threw away a three goal aggregate cushion by the 82nd minute of the second leg. Lionel Messi and Co. looked devoid of ideas during the entire match.
Valverde finally turned to Dembele who brought the Barcelona team to life. Shame then that it was the 85th minute when he emerged from the bench. Fans were quick to criticise the coach for his negative line up and the absence of the threatening winger.
Despite his two injuries, he played well in the league, too. A goal contribution every 104 minutes is not to be ignored, and his energy means he is a constant threat throughout. Although he is not the most aware defensively, he still trumps Malcom. The Brazilian is not known for his work at the back.
The case for Malcom
If one season at a big European club was enough for Dembele to be noticed by Barcelona, it was even less for them to take note of Malcom. The Brazilian youth international is joining off the back of a single good season in Europe with Bordeaux in Ligue 1.
That’s not to diminish what he has achieved this year. The 21-year-old had a phenomenal campaign and even claimed goal of the season with his stunning long-range strike against Dijon. He scored 12 goals and laid on seven assists for his teammates.
Malcom and Dembele are definitely players of a similar mould. Both are excellent dribblers who take their defenders on and look to cross the ball into dangerous areas.