Ernesto Valverde must be cursing his luck. After joining Barcelona in May, he has seen one star forward leave to Paris Saint-Germain, has seen his board goof up many a transfer in the summer, and now he has seen Barcelona’s costliest player – Ousmane Dembele get injured after just 122 minutes on the field. When the French winger pulled up against Getafe on Saturday, he was replaced by Gerard Deulofeu.
After graduating to Barcelona from Barcelona B in 2013, the La Masia graduate has been loaned out, sold, loaned out again, and then resold to Barcelona in just four years. He sparkled briefly for Everton when on loan under Roberto Martinez, but could not keep his place under Koeman. He went on loan to AC Milan last season, and his 4 goals and 3 assists in just 18 appearances were enough for Valverde to bring him back to Barcelona.
It is not expected that he will set the league alight, but he is in Valverde’s backup plans for sure. While the Blaugrana manager rattled out a list of players who can replace Dembele, he left a lot of them out for tonight’s trip to Eibar. Deulofeu also started the games before Dembele started for Barcelona.
On being asked what he expects from his backup winger, Valverde said, “What I want him to do is to score lots of goals, to provide lots of assists and to work hard on defensive aspects…I want his wing to provide a headache for the opposition and for him to help his full-back… nothing special.”
Dembele’s injury puts him out of action for 3-4 months. Let us see of Deulofeu has it in him to deliver what his manager wants and fill the void left by the Frenchman.
Deulofeu’s Attacking Capabilities
The 23-year old Spaniard’s best performance regarding goals has been for Barcelona B – where he scored 27 goals in 4,379 minutes (162 minutes per goal). His goal scoring record in the top five leagues is not as good – he has scored 15 goals in 6771 minutes, amounting to a goal every 450 minutes, i.e. every 5 matches. His xG for AC Milan, last season, was also 0.21 per 90 minutes, which again translates to a similar scoring rate.
Perhaps a low shooting rate – only 1.68 per 90 minutes is the reason, but such a scoring rate is a bit too low for Barcelona. He will need to raise his game considerably to fit alongside Messi and Suarez as a long-term option.
Deulofeu the Creator
In his career so far, Deulofeu has also assisted 39 goals, and only 5 of them came for Barcelona B, which equates to 34 assists in 6771 minutes in the top leagues. This is equivalent to an assist every 199 minutes. His expected assists per 90 minutes for AC Milan were also in the same range – 0.40 per 90 minutes. While this is better than his scoring rate, his 1.5 key passes per 90 minutes is not going to keep his more illustrious team members happy.
While Valverde would want Deulofeu to track back a bit, the winger’s defensive contribution primarily comes in the form of presses. As per Wyscout, he is involved in a defensive duel 3.79 times per 90 minutes, and most of these duels happen deep into the opposition half. Although he only wins 15% of his duels, he is definitely a busy presser. But, would that be enough to establish himself in Barcelona? I doubt that.
To effectively replace Dembele in Barcelona, Deulofeu needs to improve his finishing, his creation, as well as his defensive attributes. A sudden and drastic improvement is not possible, but if he shows signs of improvement, he will ensure that he remains Valverde’s primary backup option over others. But in the long run, Deulofeu’s future lies away from Barcelona.