Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu says Ousmane Dembele is “a better player than Neymar” – but what do the two players’ statistics suggest?
The Catalan club used a large chunk of the record-breaking €222million fee they received from PSG for Neymar in 2017 on signing Ousmane Dembele from Borussia Dortmund, who had only just turned 20.
After a debut season at the Nou Camp which was blighted by injuries, Dembele is now playing a much bigger role for Barcelona – but how do his stats compare to those of Neymar in his final season at the club?
Ernesto Valverde has dropped the 4-4-1-1 system of last season, after Andres Iniesta and Paulinho moved to Asia in the summer, reverting to the classic 4-3-3 that Barcelona are most associated with.
There’s still a little more variation, but in the biggest games if everyone’s available, Valverde is now using the same system that Luis Enrique did for three years.
Lionel Messi, a little freer to roam, and Luiz Suarez, leading the line, remain in the front three while Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic still play together in midfield.
Summer arrival Arthur plays in the role vacated by Iniesta, while Dembele now plays in exactly the same position that Neymar used to – on the left of a front three.
The Frenchman had often been used more like a winger in a midfield four, or on the right, last season – but now he’s usually found on the left and can be considered Neymar’s direct replacement.
This season he’s started 14 games on the left, compared to five on the right.
Neymar’s last season at Barcelona was not his most prolific. He scored 13 goals from 30 La Liga appearances, averaging a goal every 204 minutes, while in all competitions he scored 20 goals from 45 appearances at a rate of one every 198.6 minutes.
Dembele, meanwhile, has scored eight goals from 23 La Liga appearances so far this season, averaging 166.8 minutes per goal.
In total, he has 13 goals from 33 appearances this season, which marginally improves his goals-per-minute average to 164.6. On both counts, he’s scoring more than Neymar did in his final season at the club.
He’s still got some way to go to reach Neymar at his most prolific, however, when the Brazilian scored 39 goals from 51 appearances, averaging a goal every 105 minutes in all competitions as Barcelona won the treble in 2014-15.
At 21, there’s every chance that Dembele will reach those heights, especially if his career continues on the same trajectory.
When Neymar moved to Barcelona, aged 21, he averaged a goal every 189.2 minutes in his debut season, with 15 in total.
While Neymar wasn’t scoring as much in his final season at Barcelona, he was providing plenty of assists, often for Messi who won his fourth European Golden Shoe as he scored 37 La Liga goals in 2016-17.
In fact, with 15 in total, Neymar was La Liga’s top assister in 2016-17, providing one more than his team-mate Luis Suarez. He also topped the Champions League’s assist chart that season with eight, from nine appearances.
Overall, he provided an assist every 152 minutes, with 26 in total.
Dembele is lagging behind in this regard, with just eight assists from 33 appearances in all competitions. Lionel Messi is on track to be European football’s top scorer again, with 25 league goals so far, but Dembele has provided the assist for just one of those.
Across all competitions, Dembele averages an assist once every 267.5 minutes.
Dembele averages 1.5 shots per game in La Liga this term, and three per game in the Champions League. Neymar, in 2016-17, averaged fewer shots per game in the Champions League (2.2) but considerably more in the league (3.5%).
In terms of dribbles per game, Dembele averages 2.4 per game in La Liga and 2.2 in the Champions League. Neymar averaged 5.6 in both competitions, but unsurprisingly he was also dispossessed more – 2.8 times a game in the league and 3.6 in Europe, while Dembele averages 1.8 times dispossessed in La Liga and just 0.8 in Europe.
Neymar drew considerably more fouls, averaging 4.2 in the league and 3.6 per game in Europe, while Dembele averages 0.9 and 2.4 for the same competitions.