Barcelona Beware: Old Boy Dembele On A Mission For PSG In Champions League Clash

The focus of Paris Saint-Germain’s Champions League quarterfinal against Barcelona on Wednesday will be on Kylian Mbappe, but Ousmane Dembele is also expected to play a significant part for the French club against his old side.

Mbappe, who is set to face Barcelona in a Real Madrid shirt next season, has scored 39 goals for PSG this season. Dembele has just one.

However, the player characterized as a “tearaway” by daily Le Parisien last week provides something unique, even though Barcelona is well aware of what the 26-year-old winger can do with the ball at his feet.

The France international returned to his homeland in August after six seasons in Catalonia, with PSG paying a reputed 50 million euros ($54.3 million) to sign him to a five-year contract.

That comparatively little price in today’s transfer market for a world-class player matched the amount of his release clause at cash-strapped Barcelona.

Moving to Paris enabled the Normandy native to collaborate with Luis Enrique, who he said had previously tried to sign him when Dembele was breaking through at Rennes.

“PSG had been interested in me for quite some time. The first contact happened while I was at Dortmund, but my goal at the moment was to play for Barcelona,” Dembele told sports newspaper L’Equipe earlier this season.

He confessed leaving Barcelona was not an easy decision after flourishing under Xavi Hernandez’s tutelage near the end of his stint at Camp Nou.

“These were my two best years, and my coach believed in me. But I wanted to join with PSG. It had more to do with Paris changing my thinking than with departing Barcelona.

And thus, fate has decreed that he, like Luis Enrique, will face Barcelona in this season’s Champions League quarterfinals.

Dembele was wearing a Barcelona shirt the previous time the clubs met in the 2021 knockout round, when Mbappe scored a devastating hat-trick in the first leg in Catalonia.

Their previous meeting was the infamous last-16 tie in 2017, when a Barcelona team coached by Luis Enrique overcame a 4-0 deficit in the first leg to win 6-1 in the second.

In August of that year, a humiliated PSG exacted revenge by signing Neymar Junior from Barcelona for 222 million euros, activating his release clause.

Six years at Barca

Barcelona were blindsided and panicked, throwing huge money at replacements for their Brazilian superstar.

They swooped for Dembele, who at the age of 20 had just enjoyed a superb season in Germany at Borussia Dortmund. They agreed to pay 105 million euros plus add-ons for a player still far from the finished article.

That fee, and the even higher sum committed to signing Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool a few months later, heralded the start of Barcelona’s serious financial problems which culminated in Lionel Messi leaving the club in 2021, for PSG.

Dembele scored 40 goals in 185 appearances for Barcelona, a much better strike rate than he has managed at PSG, where his only goal in 34 games to date came against Monaco in November.

“If he were a better finisher he might have won the Ballon d’Or,” Julien Stephan, the current Rennes coach who worked with a teenage Dembele at the Brittany club, said last week.

Dembele may really need to weigh in with more goals next season once Mbappe has departed, but for now, he has at least provided more assists than any other player in France this season, playing usually in a position on the right flank.

However, the lightning-fast, fleet-footed dribbler has been deployed in a withdrawn central attacking role in key recent matches — the Champions League last-16 second leg away to Real Sociedad and the clash with fierce domestic rivals Marseille.

“I think we will see an even better version of Ousmane playing through the middle,” said Luis Enrique recently.

“I am not worried about him not scoring enough goals. I am sure he will improve because we see him in training. What he creates is very positive for the team and he is a player who almost can’t be stopped.”

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