Filling the Void: How Barcelona Can Move on From Neymar

Since the $263 million sale of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain earlier this month, uncertainty has plagued Barcelona as to how the club will overcome the Brazilian’s abrupt departure.

On Monday, Barcelona officially announced another major summer signing in the form of 20-year-old winger Ousmane Dembélé. The French attacker joined the Catalan club on a five-year deal after a transfer fee worth up to $175 million was agreed with Borussia Dortmund. The signing makes Dembélé the second-most expensive player in history, falling amusingly behind Neymar himself.

Persistent rumors have also linked Barcelona with a big-money raid for Liverpool’s wantaway maestro Philippe Coutinho, although the Merseyside club remain steadfast in their refusal to negotiate a sale.

Philippe Coutinho has been linked with a move to Barcelona this summer.

However, a deal may yet be in the cards if Liverpool opts to pursue a club-record move for AS Monaco attacker Thomas Lemar. The 21-year-old Frenchman has impressed for the reigning Ligue 1 champions, having recorded 19 goals and 24 assists in 94 appearances for the club. But with Monaco enduring a summer clearout in which Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy, Tiémoué Bakayoko, and almost certainly Kylian Mbappé have exited, it remains to be seen if the Reds can convince the French outfit to let go of another integral player.

Even if Barcelona succeeds in tempting Liverpool to part ways with Coutinho, will his addition, along with Dembélé’s arrival, provide sufficient offensive firepower to fill a Neymar-sized hole? Let’s look at the numbers.

Stats Don’t Lie (Usually)

Neymar’s absence in Barcelona’s attack is glaring, as was indicated by the 
5–1 aggregate Super Cup thrashing the Blaugrana received at the hands of Real Madrid in mid-August. After notching 105 goals in 186 matches for Barça in a team that also featured Luis Suárez and Lionel Messi (remember them?), the idea that Neymar’s productivity can be quickly replicated with little to no dropoff is, well, naïve.

Nonetheless, Barcelona fans can be encouraged by the ability of the club’s new and prospective signings to adapt to different leagues and playstyles. Dembélé, who enjoyed a meteoric rise to stardom with Borussia Dortmund, tallied 10 goals and set up a further 21 in his first and only campaign in Germany.

Likewise, Coutinho, an emerging talent at the time, joined Liverpool in 2013 from Inter Milan. In each successive season since, Coutinho has topped his previous goal record, culminating in a 14-goal and 9-assist 2016/17 effort that saw Liverpool qualify for a Champions League play-off spot for just the second time in 8 seasons.

At the very least, the evidence suggests that both players are capable of making near immediate adjustments to fresh situations. By his own standards, even Neymar endured a transitional phase in his debut season with Barcelona. The crafty forward scored and assisted 15 goals each in 41 appearances during his first campaign in La Liga, a far cry from his current caliber of play.

While a certain level of optimism regarding Barcelona’s future is justified, it’s important to consider how players like Dembélé and Coutinho could fit into the team’s starting eleven.

Let’s Get Tactical

Traditionally, Barcelona lines up in a 4–3–3 formation, with Luis Suárez leading the line and Lionel Messi occupying the right wing. Dembélé, who is equally as comfortable on the ball with either foot (see video below), spent the majority of last season as a right forward. Having said that, the Frenchman demonstrated remarkable versatility, being deployed across the front line over the course of last season.

New Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde prefers a 4–2–3–1 system, which would accommodate both Dembélé and Coutinho, should a transfer for the latter be completed.

Coutinho, most effective in the number 10 role, is seen as the heir to the aging Andrés Iniesta in the Barça midfield. With the two-footed Dembélé and Messi on the left and right of midfield respectively, Barcelona can continue to attack with wingers cutting inside to goal.

Goal.com outlines Barcelona’s strongest lineup with the current corp of players below:

Goal.com’s predicted 2017/18 Barcelona lineup, sans Coutinho.

Let’s face it: Barcelona is unlikely to make up for the loss of Neymar with either Dembélé or Coutinho, at least not instantly. However, if the club’s new signings can ease the attacking burden that currently lays heavily on Luis Suárez and Lionel Messi, the Camp Nou faithful will have plenty to look forward to in the coming years. That is, only if Dembélé performs at a higher level than he did at his Barcelona unveiling on Monday:

Jokes aside, Barça will have their work cut out for them once the summer transfer window closes on September 1. An appropriate acronym must be determined in reference to the club’s new attacking trio, as the M-S-N of Messi, Suárez, and Neymar no longer exists. With names like Lionel, Ousmane, and Luis, could this be the beginning of L-O-L? Let us know your thoughts on Barcelona’s transfer business as well as your predictions for the year!

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