Tottenham clinched qualification with a 1-1 draw against a weakened Barca team, but it was the controversial French youngster who stole the show
This was a night Ousmane Dembele needed to stand up for himself, and he did, with a brilliant individual goal as Barcelona drew 1-1 against Tottenham in the Champions League.
After a string of stories about his poor discipline, his poor diet, his poor sleeping habits and above all, his poor timekeeping, the Frenchman had something to prove following his latest misdemeanour on Sunday.
Yet again he was late for training, two hours late, and only turned up then because Barcelona’s security staff went to his house to find him.
Dembele will reportedly be hit with a big fine and the news created a new storm around a player that has provoked as many bad news stories for the club as good ones.
Not what they wanted when they shelled out up to €147 million to sign him from Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2017.
Perhaps he was taking on the role of ‘Neymar’s replacement’ a tad too seriously, given the Brazilian’s penchant for negative press.
Ernesto Valverde rested seven of the side that started the Catalan derby win over Espanyol on Saturday, so perhaps being picked in this ‘Barca B’ team could be seen as a kind of punishment for the French winger.
After all his team had already qualified in top spot from Group B and this game only meant something to Spurs and Inter, with the Premier League side eventually going through on head-to-head away goals thanks to Lucas Moura’s late equaliser.
But if it was punishment, Dembele didn’t let it show. This is the Dembele Barcelona want. The Dembele that races half the length of the field to score, leaving the opponents’ defence in tatters.
Winning the ball back in the middle of the pitch by robbing Kyle Walker-Peters in the seventh minute, the Frenchman saw two options.
Pass to Arthur, who would be through on goal. Or take the riskier option, the one which could see him berated if he messed up, going for it himself.
Brazilian pass-master Arthur is small and hardly a sprinter, so Dembele decided to go for option number two, come what may. After all, he’s no stranger to criticism.
Dembele turned on the gas and blazed past Walker-Peters again, giving the young right-back a brutal introduction to elite football.
Now in the area he fooled Harry Winks by cutting back inside, onto his left foot, which he used to slide the ball past Hugo Lloris and score a brilliant goal.
Dembele’s speed was scary. Not just his physical speed, which saw him rip through Tottenham territory like an Olympian sprinter, but his technical speed too.
While Winks was sliding in, Dembele was already ready to shoot. His finish wasn’t that far away from Lloris but the ball was past the French keeper before he could react. Maybe he needs those extra hours in bed to function in moments like this.
Dembele tore Spurs apart at other times too, with the defence completely unsure of how to deal with a player that has the capability of disappearing in any direction thanks to his mastery with both feet.
While the London side were the better team after the break, creating plenty of chances which Jasper Cillessen did well to repel, they always had to be cautious of Dembele’s dangerous presence on the counter.
It raises an interesting question for Barcelona. Maybe, if he can keep producing moments like this, they should ease up slightly on his punishments for unprofessionalism.
Not every player fits the mould. Dembele breaks it in many ways. Sometimes the carrot is better than the stick. And at 21, not only are his best days to come on the pitch, but he has plenty of room to mature off of it too.