Barcelona fans mourning the end of the club’s ‘MSN’ strike force are now hoping for great things from the ‘MSD’ following Ousmane Dembélé’s move from Borussia Dortmund.
Together, Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar thrilled football fans around the globe while shattering goalscoring records, but their reign of terror drew to a close this summer when Neymar departed for Paris Saint-Germain.
Already a big hit in France thanks to his jaw-dropping tricks and eye for goal, the Brazil forward was always going to be difficult to replace, yet Barça believe their new-look front three can strike fear into defences across Europe.
“He’s a player who guarantees an attacking threat, which is something we’d lost and badly needed,” said coach Ernesto Valverde, having signed the 20-year-old French international for a club record fee. “He can play on either wing or through the middle; he gets forward a lot and has remarkable technique. We expect a lot, and we’re very excited about him.”
So what exactly can Dembélé bring to the five-time European champions?
Barça’s latest arrival is certainly a close fit to Neymar thanks to his astonishing dribbling skills and electric pace, which means Suárez and Messi will still benefit from having a strike partner who can run defences ragged and open up space around him.
Although five years younger than Neymar and significantly less experienced, Dembélé has the same fearlessness when he takes on opponents and an ability to disrupt any defensive system. Indeed, his compatriot Mikaël Silvestre has likened him to former Manchester United team-mates Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney during their early years at Old Trafford.
Left foot or right? Both
One of the Frenchman’s most remarkable attributes is his shooting prowess with both feet. He boasts a left foot equally as dangerous as his right, and even he cannot properly answer which he prefers: in an interview while at Rennes, he professed to being better with his left, even as he was reminded that he takes penalties with his right.
Neymar would often unhinge defenders by swapping wings throughout games, but he was always more comfortable pulling the trigger with his right foot. Demebélé’s versatile shooting ability ought to mean that Suárez and Messi can be even more flexible with the passes they give him, and they can expect quick service themselves when the Frenchman is on the ball.
Fewer goals … for now
In addition to the constant entertainment they provided, Messi, Suárez and Neymar were ruthlessly efficient in front of goal. They amassed a then record 122 strikes in all competitions during their first campaign together in 2014/15, firing Barça to the treble before taking their tally to 131 the following season and upping the assists count from 66 to 79.
When Neymar left, the trio had netted a combined 364 goals in their three years together on the pitch, with the Brazilian responsible for scoring 90 of them.
Matching those figures might seem intimidating for Dembélé, who struck 12 goals during his single season as a professional with Rennes and ten for Dortmund last term. The youngster may well need a couple of years before competing with the eye-watering tallies of his fellow forwards – but he could hardly ask for two better finishers to help him get up to scratch.