Lionel Messi returned to captain Barcelona on Sunday but Ousmane Dembele’s problems are a growing concern for the Argentine.
As Barca fans anticipated the return of their talisman, problems off the pitch bad begun to dampen Ernesto Valverde’s preparations ahead of the Sunday tie with Real Betis.
Barca were no doubt – favourites for the game, but they were undone by a superb performance from Quique Setien’s side, who secured a 4-2 victory at the Camp Nou to end the Catalan side’s run of 41 games unbeaten at home.
Messi netted two on his return and looked fresh on his return, but Dembele’s absence was at the forefront as the Frenchman turned up late to the game, seeing himself axed from the match-day squad.
The World Cup winner turned up late for a third time this season to training earlier in the week and did not inform Barca of his whereabouts until later in the day, claiming he had illness.
Replaced by Malcom, who scored against Inter Milan in mid-week, Dembele now seems to have lost his place in Barca’s starting eleven.
His issues off the pitch are now causing concern, leading the likes of Gerard Pique to back the Frenchman and claim that himself and others are willing to guide the youngster through this difficult period.
However, now may not be the time.
Barca are attempting to focus on retaining the La Liga title and winning the Champions League after failing to do so in the last three years – but their form has not been that great.
So far, they have shipped 18 league goals, more than anyone in the top seven and they look a mess at the back, highlighted massively against Betis on Sunday night.
Dembele’s ill timing and immaturity adds to a number of question marks, but also shows that he is most likely not cut out for a role with the club.
Messi, who is in his first year has captain – has promised the Champions League title to fans this season – but he may need to grab hold of not only his defence, but the young Frenchman too over the international period.
One thing is for certain – Barca are capable of winning both aforementioned titles, but so far – their is nothing vintage about their season in attempting to do so.