Look, nobody has any idea when the next transfer window will be open for business, but with the Bundesliga returning this weekend and potential for the Premier League to follow suit next month, there is hope the 2019/20 campaign will reach a natural conclusion across many of Europe’s elite leagues by the end of summer.
That, of course, would likely lead to a smaller window to add and offload talent in and around autumn time ahead of the 2020/21 season – hopefully, anyway.
And one man who’s set to draw plenty of interest despite the rather hefty fee attached to any potential sale is Lyon’s Moussa Dembele – who won’t have anymore opportunities to impress Europe’s elite following the abrupt cancellation of Ligue 1 at the end of April as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
And while most will know a thing or two about the 23-year-old, it’s about time we took a deeper plunge into why the Frenchman’s gained such significant hype in recent times and what he will (and won’t) offer his next club…whoever that may be.
Career Thus Far
Parisian-born, Dembele spent much of his youth career at Paris Saint-Germain before making the switch to then Premier League outfit Fulham in 2012, aged 16.
He excelled at a youth level for the Cottagers and spent the best part of three years in the senior set-up before making the move to Celtic in 2016. He scored 19 times in 64 senior appearances during his spell in west London.
Up in Glasgow was where the Frenchman made a name for himself, however, scoring 17 league goals in his debut campaign before a hamstring issue hampered his 2017/18 season – still netting on 16 occasions in all competitions as Celtic won back-to-back domestic trebles, mind.
The 23-year-old then made his return to France in 2018 as he signed for Lyon for just shy of £20m. In his two years at the club up to this point, the forward’s notched a total of 42 goals in 88 games.
Despite his fine form at a club level, the fierce competition up top for the national team means he’s yet to earn his first senior international cap. He has, however, played 25 times for the Under-21s and he led the French line at the European Championships last summer.
Systems He’s Played In
Following a two-year spell at Celtic Park in which he spent much of his time leading the line as the lone front man, Dembele has been used in a variety of systems since his switch to Lyon, especially this season.
Rudi Garcia generally opted for a 4-3-3 to start the campaign where Dembele was asked to provide depth to the Lyon attack and was flanked by talented wide men Memphis Depay and Bertrand Traore. The use of the 3-5-2 was also on display in Lyon’s crunch encounter with PSG back in September, where Les Gones tried to hit Les Parisiens in transition through the strike partnership of Depay and Dembele.
Dembele’s also been apart of a 4-4-2, a 4-2-3-1 and other variations of three at the back systems this season but he’s been the most prolific when he’s led the line on his own; with only three of his 16 Ligue 1 goals this term coming as part of a strike duo.
Blessed with predatory instincts, two of Dembele’s stand-out attributes are his off the ball movement and finishing.
As many right-footed strikers do nowadays, Dembele likes to operate in the inside left channel – what the Germans often call the ‘half-space’ – as much as he does the central zone.
His intelligent and crafty movement creates space for himself and opens angles for others in attacking transitions, while he’s mastered the art of running in-behind a high defensive line and playing off the shoulder of the last defender.
His timing of these types of runs means he’s rarely caught offside either – on average, he was penalised just once every two games last season.
This impressive space exploitation also translates to inside the area, where he’s an absolute demon. With Lyon often deploying wingers who like to stretch the flanks, Dembele’s instincts inside the box are key to Les Gones scoring goals. And oh so often is he able to find space between two defenders and meet an oncoming cross.
2019-20 Ligue 1 top scorers ??
1?? Kylian Mbappe | 18 goals
2?? Wissam Ben Yedder | 18 goals
3?? Moussa Dembele | 16 goals
4?? Neymar | 13 goals
5?? Victor Osimhen | 13 goals pic.twitter.com/9DQdQG1M2F
— I_am_Vickbanks (@Taofik17261742) May 7, 2020
In terms of his ability in front of goal, the Frenchman’s 31.4% shot conversion in 2019/20 placed third among those in Europe’s top five leagues with more than 10 goals, while he also outperformed his expected goals by almost six, highlighting that it’s not all poaching from five yards out.
Dembele has the capacity to score a variety of goals from in and around the box.
Another facet of his game which can’t be overlooked is his work rate. Like many of Europe’s most sought after forwards, namely Lautaro Martinez and Timo Werner, Dembele plays a key role for his side out of possession and is diligent in his defensive work.
Dembele goes against the grain somewhat in that he’s not your typical modern-day forward, he’s an out-and-out number nine.
And while this in itself shouldn’t in any way be considered a weakness, there may be concerns about the Frenchman’s creative output. He’s not the sort of forward who likes to drop between the lines and combine with the midfield; 3.29 miscontrols per 90 this season along with a sub-par 74% pass completion rate highlight somewhat of a sloppiness in possession.
Dembele’s 46% success rate in one-v-one situations (dribbling) further emphasise the fact that he’s not effective at dropping deep before running at opponents.
Overall, his creative numbers dropped considerably in 2019/20. He had just two assists last season compared to four the season prior, where he’d played less minutes, and the underlying stats also suggest a drop off; his expected assists declined from 0.16 to 0.07 and shot-creating actions from 0.12 to 0.07 per 90.
French media outlet Le 10 Sport reported back in March that it’ll take a significant fee to convince Jean-Michel Aulas into selling the Frenchman; around £73m to be precise.
However, with COVID-19 completely altering the dynamic of the transfer market for the foreseeable future, it’s highly unlikely Lyon will be able to garner such an extortionate fee for Dembele’s services – especially after their bitterly disappointing seventh-place finish last term.
They just don’t have any leverage and a fee around the £50m mark seems more likely in the next window.
Where’s His Best Fit?
While a whole host of clubs are reportedly chasing the Frenchman’s signature, we’re going to focus on the two apparent front runners: Manchester United and Chelsea.
At Stamford Bridge he’d likely have to rotate his minutes with Tammy Abraham unless Frank Lampard makes the unlikely switch to a two up top. His role in the side would be similar to Abraham’s as their profiles aren’t too dissimilar, but you can expect the Frenchman to make use of Reece James’ tremendous crossing ability a little better than Abraham.
United, however, seems like the best fit for the 23-year-old.
You can envisage Dembele striking up a potent partnership with Bruno Fernandes as a result of the former’s exceptional movement in behind and the latter’s tendency to create solutions against a deep block and spam triangle when he finds himself in a bit of space.
Dembele would provide the Red Devils with more of a focal point compared to Anthony Martial and his typical number nine profile is the sort of forward Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants to lead his front line. He’s also adept in attacking transition so shouldn’t have too many issues adjusting to the 5-3-2 Solskjaer likes to deploy in the ‘big’ games which relies heavily on counter-attacks.
The project at Old Trafford is an exciting one, and Dembele has the potential to be a key spoke in Ole’s wheel.