Despite their exciting comeback victory against Getafe, the three points have come at great expense for Barcelona. The club released a statement this morning saying recording signing Ousmane Dembélé, who left the game in the 29th minute holding his hamstring, ruptured the tendon in his femoral bicep in his left thigh. He will have surgery this week and is expected to miss three to four months.
This is obviously a massive blow for the Blaugrana, who bet big on Dembélé to replace one of the world’s best three players. The injury comes just as Dembélé was starting to get his feet wet with his new club, manager and teammates, and now he could miss as many as 20 games if the timetable is correct, including the Clasico at the Bernabeu and the rest of the Champions League group stage.
The consequences of this injury could be severe. With Luis Suarez out of form, Barcelona have already been lacking creativity and productivity in the final third, and the team’s depth on the wing was already more shallow than any other position. Gerard Deulofeu and Denis Suarez are the only natural wide players, though Suarez has mostly been used as a left-sided interior. Outside of that, no true wingers are left in the squad, and Luis Suarez and Paco Alcacer have both been unconvincing playing off the left of Lionel Messi.
This leaves Ernesto Valverde with few suitable options with a bevy of league, league cup and Champions League fixtures coming up during Dembélé’s recovery time.
I think Aleix Vidal being made a backup right winger as Sergi Roberto returns to deputy duty at right back is the most likely scenario, though Vidal hasn’t looked up to Barcelona standards this season. As much as I hate to say it, Valverde might also consider the reintroduction of Arda Turan, who played well on the left wing in place of Neymar last season. Rafinha, who played wide on the right for Luis Enrique, could also be a useful piece, but he is recovering from a surgery of his own after he damaged his meniscus in April.
The final option is a total wild card, but Jose Arnaiz, a left winger who signed for Barça B this summer with an eye toward an eventual chance with the first team, could be thrown into the fire in the league cup matches. Arnaiz scored a brace against Cordoba last weekend and at 22, he should be physically and mentally prepared for a cup of coffee with Barcelona’s first team.
Although the club seemed to be trying to bring an extra attacker into the fold until the last minute of the transfer window, its failure to sign Philippe Coutinho or even Angel Di Maria might only now start to affect the team.
Dembélé’s injury puts a massive damper on Barcelona’s excellent start to the season. As the Blaugrana racked up the points in the early going, there was an extra bit of encouragement knowing things would only get better once Dembélé finally settled in. Now his injury will set back that process another three to four months, and he will have to reintroduce himself to the squad like he is a new player once he returns.
Meanwhile, Valverde will have to decide between playing strikers out of position (Luis Suarez and Alcacer), bringing exiled players back into the picture (Vidal and Turan) or running his two natural replacements into the ground until Dembélé is back (Deulofeu and Denis Suarez). With daunting away trips to Madrid and Turin, as well as a steady dose of challenging league fixtures, you have to wonder if Barcelona’s attack will have enough firepower with Dembélé out.
Above all, this news is a crushing blow for Dembélé, who has just completed a move to his dream club, contributed to his first goal against Espanyol and started in a massive win against Juventus in the Nou Camp. He will have felt he was on the cusp of stamping his presence on the squad, but now his true arrival will be put on hold for almost half of the season.