Liverpool do not yet know the upshot of their season yet it appears Jurgen Klopp is already making plans for next term with Barcelona winger Ousmane Dembele in his sights.
The Reds are 90 minutes away from being crowned kings of Europe, if they can overcome reigning champions Real Madrid on May 26. But with a truncated pre-season, thanks to the World Cup, there is no time to waste.
A deal for RB Leipzig midfielder Naby Keita has been in place since last summer and now it appears Dembele, who looks surplus to requirements at the Camp Nou, is a Liverpool transfer target.
Klopp has tried to sign Dembele before, when he was in charge of Borussia Dortmund, and was asked about the possibility of a move for the 20-year-old following Sunday’s defeat at Chelsea. “Is he on the market? Now I’m interested,” he said.
Our friends at Football Whispers have run the rule over the French forward to find out why he is wanted by the Reds this summer.
Who is Ousmane Dembele?
Born in the Normandy town of Vernon to West African parents it was Dembele’s mother, Fatimata, who ran the family home after his father, Ousmane Snr, left.
Football dominated Dembele’s early life and was his focus at all times, even when he should have been at school. But Fatimata encouraged her son and it became evident at a young age he had a gift.
In 2010 Dembele got his big break, moving to Ligue 1 side Rennes. Having impressed for the second string, scoring 13 times in 22 outings in the Championnat de France Amateur, he was promoted to the first-team squad and made his debut against Angers in September 2015.
Big things were soon expected of the precocious young talent with sporting director Mikael Silvestre likening him to ex-Manchester United team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo.
“I saw Cristiano Ronaldo arrive at the same age at Manchester United, and Ousmane has the same characteristics, which remind me of the young Cristiano,” he told Paris Normandie.
After scoring 12 times in 26 outings during his single season with les Rouges et Noirs, Borussia Dortmund snapped Dembele up on a five-year deal for a fee of around £13.5million.
It was a significant fee for a player with fewer than 30 senior outings to his name but Dortmund’s gamble was justified. In his single season at the Westfalenstadion Dembele bagged ten goals and 21 assists in all competitions.
By now his status as one of the world’s most exciting young talents was clear. Emboldened by the €222million burning a hole in their pocket from the world-record sale of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona made their move.
At €105million, plus €40million in add-ons, he become second-most expensive player of all time behind the Brazilian – later usurped by Philippe Coutinho’s move from Liverpool to Catalonia.
For the first time, though, thing have not gone smoothly for the 20-year-old France international. In fact, this season has been rather bumpy. Dembele sustained a serious hamstring problem in his first league start and, upon his return, could not force his way back into Ernesto Valverde’s side.
There are suggestions the Barca coach is not convinced by Dembele who has been subject of Atletico Madrid and Arsenal transfer rumours.
What are Dembele’s strengths?
Boasting lightning-quick pace and the confidence to take players on, Dembele would be the closest thing to Sadio Mane at Liverpool if he ends up moving to Anfield this summer.
The French forward made light work of the Bundesliga in his single season with Dortmund, finishing with more accurate through balls per 90 than anyone else (0.3), more successful take-ons (4.54) and the second-most big chances created (0.75).
Dembele is more refined than simply getting his head down and charging to the byline, though.
He has football intelligence, highlighted by the number of assists he recorded last term and was third for assists per 90 with 0.52 in the league. This term he has six in just nine La Liga starts for the Blaugrana.
What are Dembele’s weaknesses?
Unsurprisingly given his position and style of play, Dembele is not a strong physical presence and has won just 0.12 aerial duels per 90 this season, down on last season’s 0.26 which put him 103rd amongst Bundesliga attackers.
He has been dispossessed 3.83 times per 90 this season too and although his speed and dribbling ability allows him to get out of trouble, he must learn to use his body better in order to hold onto the ball.
Defensively, too, Dembele’s game could do with some work. Having played under Thomas Tuchel at Borussia Dortmund, Klopp’s high-intensity press won’t present him with too many problems.
However, his tackles (0.99) and interceptions (0.24) per 90 are lower than Mane’s (1.22 and 0.42 respectively) and he will not be excused at Anfield if he fails to match the defensive output of his fellow forwards.
How much will Dembele cost?
According to French outlet SFR Sport, Liverpool are keen to take Dembele on loan for the 2018/19 campaign with the deal including the option to buy the Barca outcast at a later date.
The second part could prove the stumbling block. While the Merseysiders have the funds to complete a permanent deal for Dembele, sanctioning the deal would be a different matter altogether as Barca would be keen to recoup as much of the €105million they spent on Dembele as possible.
However, Barca still owe Liverpool an undisclosed fee for Coutinho which the Reds could use as leverage if they are serious about a deal for Dembele.
What is Dembele’s most likely destination?
Liverpool are the newest name in the race for Dembele this summer with Atletico Madrid the previously linked.
Atleti star Antoine Griezmann is a Barcelona transfer target this summer and is expected to depart even if it is not for the champions. A loan move for Dembele as part of any deal had been suggested. However, it is hard to imagine the forward fitting into Diego Simeone’s famously rigid system.
That should leave Liverpool with a clear run at Dembele. The only question is whether a deal is financially viable.
By Tom Bodell – follow Tom and the rest of the team at Football Whispers on Twitter @FB_Whispers