Ousmane Dembele under Quique Setien: A fierce return for redemption?

4 min read

Ousmane Dembele’s career so far has been a disappointing one, not just for the fans but for the player himself. Any reasonable tactical analysis on Dembele would undoubtedly point out his immense talent, with a lot of people considering him to be the most talented French forward, even surpassing the wonderboy Kylian Mbappe.

With Dembele injured, Barcelona has lacked penetration in the final third since Dembele is supposed to be the proponent of pace, and added creative abilities for the club’s attack. With the recent news of Ousmane Dembele’s recovery, many questions have been asked, with opinions of fans ranging over a broad spectrum.

One question, in particular, is what Ousmane Dembele would bring to Setien’s Barcelona?

Let’s look into this question from a tactical analysis perspective:

Barcelona ended their La Liga campaign with a 5-0 victory at the Mendizorrotza Stadium, leaving many fans asking the question: “Where has this kind of performance been throughout the season?”. Overall, Setien’s Barcelona has struggled to finish, even though they manage to find themselves in statistically sound positions. Though this is mainly a matter of time that the players require to adapt to Setien’s style, Ousmane Dembele could solve many problems Barcelona’s attack is facing.

Ousmane Dembele’s profile as a winger:

Ousmane Dembele

Barcelona has off late struggled with their attacking options, as the likes of Antoine Griezmann cannot provide the width and the pace that Barcelona’s attack desperately needs.

The flanks have been heavily reliant on the full-backs during an attack, which opens up spaces to defend against in a counter-attack, and therefore forcing the full-backs to track back as fast as they can.

The increased workload is not the problem, but the spaces that open up due to full-backs being in such advanced positions is a considerable risk. Setien has previously used his full-backs similarly. With the inclusion of Ousmane Dembele, however, at least one of the full-backs will have a decreased workload and therefore could be more present in case of a counter-attacking threat.

Ousmane Dembele’s natural dribbling abilities:


Another point to be noted in the recent games is that the GOAT, Lionel Messi has often been closed down by multiple players, match after match. Teams have focused on crowding Leo with numerous players, at times 3, even 4!
This is possible by increasing the density of players on one side of the pitch.

With Dembele coming in, however, given his pace and dribbling abilities, teams cannot afford to increase the density on one side of the pitch, as giving Dembele this kind of space would be disastrous for the opposition. This would force teams to play with a balanced density on both sides of the pitch, which would, in turn, mean Leo gets more space!

Currently, when players find themselves in tight spaces, we only see Messi taking on defenders. Dembele time and again has shown how good he can be in tight spaces, he doesn’t shy away from taking on many defenders. This would also complement Leo and other players to get into open positions, as fewer opposition players would be available on the other flank, providing cleaner chances to finish.

Ousmane Dembele’s creative attributes:
Ousmane Dembele goal
Ousmane Dembele sped past Kyle Walker-Peters and gave Harry Winks a dummy before calmly slotting the ball past Hugo Lloris

Ousmane Dembele under Ernesto Valverde played in a very pro-counter-attacking role, as the manager wanted to make the most of his natural abilities. Inaki Williams was a crucial piece in Valverde’s Athletic Bilbao, a fast forward used optimally in the counter, and Dembele was supposed to be a proponent of the counter-attacks at Barcelona. With Dembele injured, Valverde lost a critical player to execute his plans.

Ousmane Dembele

With Dembele’s high creative stats, we can be sure of more chances created as he steps in. The numbers reflect his abilities, as Dembele has shown the world time and again, that he can slice through defences with his passes.

There is something that the numbers don’t talk about, and it’s the fact that Dembele has never played in a style of play like that of Setien’s. Dembele has always been used as a player in a direct style of play. But he possesses all the abilities to succeed at Setien’s system since there have been moments of good link-up play displayed as well.



Ousmane Dembele has a lot to offer as a player to a system like that of Setien’s. There are a lot of ways in which his strengths can be used to complement the style of play, and it would certainly imply that Martin Braithwaite gets fewer minutes on the pitch.

Ansu Fati would provide a brilliant rotation option, should Setien decide to play Dembele in the left flank. However, there are chances that Messi will take on a more central role with Ousmane Dembele playing in the right flank. The possibilities are many, for now, the only question is, will Ousmane Dembele come back with a better physique that is far less injury-prone?

If not for his injuries, Barcelona would be in a much better place.

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