Ousmane Dembele has shown the same ability to beat defenders as Neymar did in his Barcelona prime, according to head coach Xavi.
The French winger delivered three assists on Wednesday as Barcelona hammered Viktoria Plzen 5-1 in their Champions League group opener, an ideal result ahead of tougher tests against Bayern Munich and Inter.
Robert Lewandowski grabbed a hat-trick, with Dembele setting up the striker’s second as well as goals for Franck Kessie and Ferran Torres.
It is remarkable to think that Barcelona and Dembele were in a fractious stand-off barely eight months ago, which at one point saw the club tell the winger to leave amid a contract row.
He has since signed a new deal at Camp Nou, giving club and player security through to 2024, and his form on the wing has been largely outstanding.
“I don’t want to throw flowers, but the ability he has in one-on-one situations is at the level of the best Neymar,” said Xavi, who played alongside Neymar for Barcelona.
The only aspect where Xavi would ask more of Dembele is in pushing to add to his goals tally.
“He has to dare more to shoot at goal and score,” said Xavi. “He’s a good boy and he has to take advantage of these characteristics. He’s here to make a difference and he’s doing it.”
Neymar left Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 and remains with the French giants.
His prowess in front of goal is something Dembele can only aspire to, as despite Xavi’s assertions there is a huge gulf between Neymar’s output and Dembele’s own.
Since the start of 2022, Dembele and Neymar have played a similar number of minutes across all competitions (Dembele – 1,814; Neymar – 1,681) and Dembele edges the assists comparison 13-11 but is 66-62 behind on chances created.
However, their form in terms of finishing has been strikingly different, with Neymar scoring 19 goals and Dembele managing just three. That is despite Dembele attempting 68 shots to Neymar’s 54.
Of that high shot tally, Dembele only hit the target 15 times, while Neymar has done so on 31 occasions.
Neymar is exceeding his expected goals (xG) tally of 12.44, while Dembele’s xG of 4.99 suggests his shots are often coming from areas where it is highly unlikely he would score. The xG metric looks at the quality of a chance and the likelihood of it resulting in a goal.
Neymar’s shots-to-goals conversion rate is an excellent 35.19 per cent, while Dembele is found lagging on 4.41 per cent.
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