Despite criticism of the France international, his interventions have been invaluable for Barcelona, who would be worse off than Madrid without him.
Ousmane Dembélé may have found himself on the wrong end of the headlines in recent weeks after his reported late attendance for the Inter game and a no-show at training, but when the France international has been called on by Ernesto Valverde this season his cameos have proved to be pure gold for Barcelona.
Given just 10 minutes off the bench against Atlético Madrid with his side 1-0 down against Diego Simeone’s defensive machine, the winger kept his nerve in the 89th minute to steer the ball past Jan Oblak and rescue a point for his side, who were the league leaders going into the game.
And Dembélé’s part in that status cannot be underplayed, even while the 21-year-old has apparently been more interested in video games than football.
Over the course of the season, Dembélé has been responsible for adding six points to Barça’s league tally. In Valladolid he scored the winner and he completed a comeback in Anoeta, where Barça have had an awful record in recent seasons, sealing a 2-1 win with an opportunistic goal.
In Vallecas, with Barça 2-1 down in the 87th minute, the France international struck a wonderful goal to make it 2-2 after coming off the bench then started the move for Luis Suárez’s eventual winner in the 90th. Added to his timely strike in the Metropolitano, Dembélé’s interventions have allowed Barça to remain at the top of the table. Without the six points that he has been instrumental in providing, Valverde’s side could now be behind Real Madrid – enduring one of their worst starts to a season this century – and out of the European places.
Valverde: "Dembélé has things nobody else in the squad has"
“He has decisive appearances in the game and with important goals," Valverde said after the Atlético draw. "Dembélé has things that nobody else in the squad has - self-confidence, one against one, shooting with both feet, personality...”
Overall, despite just seven starts in the league this season, Dembélé has proven decisive in 52 percent of the games he ha sfeatured in this sesason, including his winning goal in the 78th minute to seal Spanish Super Cup victory over Sevilla in Tangiers.
Overall, during an injury plagues start to his Barça career, Dembélé has been involved in 13 goals in 25 starts, either scoring or assisting, for his side since his 2017 arrival from Dortmund.
"You have to help him get the talent out,” Valverde concluded on Saturday night.