It’s. Actually. Happening.
Football has gone crazy, all sanity is lost and the world is on the verge of ending. This is what the fear-mongers will say now that Neymar is close to completing his £196m move to Paris Saint-Germain.
The Brazil international told his team-mates at training this morning he wanted to leave Barcelona, subsequently given permission by Ernesto Valverde to leave the session to “sort out his future.”
With Neymar gone, Barcelona have earmarked Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho as the long-term successor to his compatriot’s role, but the Reds are standing firm on their stance that the 25-year-old isn’t for sale. In truth, Jurgen Klopp could be doing them a favour.
Coutinho is a fantastic playmaker, but he’s not a like-for-like replacement for Neymar and wouldn’t solve the problem is departure will cause. A better option, though probably costlier, is Ousmane Dembele of Borussia Dortmund. RealSport explain why this is the case.
Coutinho’s similarities to Messi
It goes without saying that Lionel Messi is a once in a generation player with a very unique skillset, though Coutinho does demonstrate some similarities to the Argentine legend. For instance, they’re both best when on the ball.
Unlike Neymar, Coutinho benefits from being in possession. He’s not a ‘winger-striker’ in the say way, rather a ‘wide playmaker’ like Messi used to be before his move to a more central position. Furthermore, Jurgen Klopp has recently deployed Coutinho in a deeper position, almost as a free number eight in midfield and it has worked a treat.
So often Coutinho was the ‘pass before the pass’ for Liverpool, demonstrated by the fact that he registered 58 key passes and seven assists last season, rather than the goal-scorer, despite netting 13 times. It’s here where Coutinho thrives; setting up the one-on-ones, rather than finishing them himself.
The issue, though, is that there can only be one playmaker in the side and it’s always going to be Messi. He’s the one you want on the ball. It means Coutinho will be somewhat starved of possession, which doesn’t suit his game. He’s not one to ghost out wide and make runs in behind, rather he creates those opportunities.
What will happen, therefore, is Coutinho waits for the ball to come to his feet, which it never will, and he fades from games. It’s for this reason that he would be the wrong signing.
This is the type of player that Barcelona need and the exact role Dembele has been playing for Borussia Dortmund. Neymar has been Barcelona’s creative influence on the wing; not in a playmaking role, pick a through ball from deep sort of way, rather beat a man with skill, and drive into the heart of the defence.
Dembele can fulfil the same role. He created 63 chances last season, which would have put him third at Barcelona behind Neymar and Messi, and ended the campaign with 12 assists.
In fact, he assisted five more goals than Coutinho and only created two less chances.
Moreover, he was fantastic on the ball. He was ninth in Europe’s top five leagues for take-ons completed, which bodes well for Barcelona’s general style of play. Dribbling is a fundamental part of their attack because of the confusion and indecisiveness it can create amongst defenders.
This isn’t even to mention the fact that he can score goals, hence the ‘striker’ part of this hybrid role.
Dembele has no strong foot
Critics will try to argue that Dembele is predominantly a right winger and a complete restructuring of the attack will ensue from his arrival, though the Frenchman is ambidextrous. In fact, he’s so ambidextrous he doesn’t know which foot is better.
He explained that he’s left-footed by nature, but takes penalties with his right because his shots are stronger. You make sense of it, because we can’t…
The 20-year-old managed six goals in his debut Bundesliga campaign, with three coming off his right foot and two from his left, demonstrating his ability to score with either foot. It’s perfect for Barcelona as Dembele can slot straight onto the left flank, the one that Neymar vacated, and pick up where the Brazilian left off.
He’s more than capable of cutting in off the flank, beating his man for skill and speed, having completed 105 take-ons last season, the most of any player in the Bundesliga, and finishing past the goalkeeper. Tutored by Lionel Messi for the foreseeable future, moreover, Dembele will only improve.
RealSport verdict: Ousmane Dembele
Dembele, therefore, is the best replacement for Neymar Barcelona could sign. He's a 'winger-striker' in the same mould as the Brazilian, capable of creating chances, beating a man out wide and scoring. Crucially, he doesn't detract from Messi as the team's primary playmaker, which Coutinho would.
Ultimately, losing a player of Neymar’s calibre is never easy and a loss that may take some time to recover completely from. However, if Barcelona can secure Dembele in the wake of the Brazilian’s departure, that will go down as a BIG win.
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