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Ousmane Dembélé: Supersub?

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When Lionel Messi returns to the lineup, is Dembélé’s best role as an impact sub?

Rayo Vallecano de Madrid v FC Barcelona - La Liga Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

FC Barcelona had to claw their way to a 3-2 win over Rayo Vallecano, and once again, Ousmane Dembélé had a part to play. Coming off the bench in place of Rafinha, the Frenchman scored a late equalizer before Luis Suárez scored the winner.

Despite this, Dembélé had moments in which he once again drew frustration from the fans. At the moment, he has good matches and bad matches, and even matches where he goes from one extreme to the other from one sequence of play to the next. The winger is a huge talent to be sure, but he’s not exactly the finished article yet.

It’ll be interesting to see whether Ernesto Valverde persists with Rafinha in the lineup against Inter Milan in the UEFA Champions League. Rafinha started in the first match against Inter, as well as against Real Madrid, and in the last match. Rafinha is preferred for his ability to defend and keep possession, but it’s clearly the mercurial Dembélé who has more potential to do something spectacular.

With Lionel Messi on the verge of coming back from injury, the question of Rafinha or Dembélé will be about who comes off the bench first, most likely. Suárez is in red-hot form; Philippe Coutinho, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitić are undisputed starters; and Arthur seems to have broken into the starting XI. Coutinho has gone off form slightly, so perhaps some will argue for his exclusion, although this was once the case for Suárez , and Valverde rightfully persisted with him.

Dembélé may become a supersub this season, rather than a starter, and for a 21 year old, that’s fine, price-tag notwithstanding. His pace and ability on the ball make him ideal if you need someone to turn a match, even if it is a risk that he will lose the ball. On the other hand, while leading, he can be absolutely deadly on the counter, as he showed against Real Madrid.

Dembélé will continue making the case for becoming a starter, but it’ll be quite hard with so many established stars plus the ever-improving Arthur. Perhaps, for now, Dembélé’s best role is off the bench.