Ousmane Dembele will improve in time – Barca’s Ernesto Valverde
BARCELONA — Ernesto Valverde says Ousmane Dembele still needs to improve in certain areas but the Barcelona coach has every confidence in the France forward coming good.
Dembele, a €105 million summer signing from Borussia Dortmund, has endured a tough first season in Spain and is still without his first goal for his new club.
An injury in just his third Barca appearance ruled him out for four months and he was sidelined for a further four weeks in January just four games after making his comeback.
Despite remaining fit for the last month, he’s started just one of Barcelona’s last six games, at home to Girona in La Liga and was an unused substitute in the matches against Chelsea and Atletico Madrid.
He did start Wednesday’s Catalan Super Cup win over Espanyol, although his appearance raised more concerns as he struggled to impact the game during his 60 minutes on the pitch.
“Dembele is a player that is always prepared to take on opponents, he’s a dribbler, he’s powerful, he’s good with both feet… that’s a lot of qualities,” Valverde said in a news conference before Saturday’s league game against Malaga.
“It’s true that at certain moments he has to improve in the final third, but he’s still just 20 years old. It’s a question of experience. With time we have faith that he will learn and improve.”
Dembele’s professionalism has even been called into doubt in recent weeks, with the former Rennes man responding by revealing he’s hired a personal chef and an osteopath to help improve his performances on the pitch.
Barca’s trip to Malaga could provide another opportunity for him to impress, although Valverde says there will be no experiments against La Liga’s basement club despite moving eight points clear at the top with last weekend’s win over Atletico.
“I’m not planning for the game to be a test, I am planning to win it,” he said. “It would be an error to look at it in any other way. Teams that are at the bottom and needing results in the final stage of the season usually get them. They’re all giving 200 percent.”
In a similar vein, Valverde also insisted his players will not fall into the trap of being distracted by Wednesday’s Champions League game against Chelsea at Camp Nou. Barca were caught out last week, drawing at Las Palmas when they had their minds on the Atletico game.
“The Malaga game is as important as the Chelsea game,” he added. “Thinking about anything else is a mistake. It happened to us in Gran Canaria the other day and it made the Atletico game even more important. We don’t want more dropped points. Our objective to focus exclusively on Malaga, we had a warning against Las Palmas.”
Barca remain without injured duo Nelson Semedo and Andres Iniesta, with Valverde saying it’s “too soon” to know if the latter will be back for Chelsea’s visit. Denis Suarez is also missing with a groin problem.
Gerard Pique, though, remains available for selection despite battling a niggling knee injury for over a month now.
“I am speaking permanently with Pique to manage the situation,” Valverde explained. “He is training with the group, he’s fine. He shouldn’t have any problem playing in the upcoming games. We’ve been lucky that the injury he got against Espanyol was mild and he’s nearly recovered.”
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