OPINION | Could the signing of Moussa Dembélé help Atlético Madrid secure the league title?

As reported by our colleagues at Get French Football News, Lyon forward Moussa Dembélé has agreed to join Atlético Madrid on loan to replace the outgoing Diego Costa. Dembélé, 24, has had a relatively poor season despite the success of his team as a whole with Lyon sitting top of Ligue 1, but that doesn’t paint the whole picture of a player with a lot to offer any of Europe’s top clubs.

Dembélé has spent the majority of this season playing backup to the likes of Memphis Depay and Tino Kadewere, both of whom have had impressive starts to the season. But his admission speaks more to a stylistic difference in Dembélé’s attributes compared to the way the French side have sought to play this season.

The French striker at his best, with a clear run of games, would fit ideally in a Diego Simeone side and enable much more versatility in the striking role than Atleti currently possess. In his previous two seasons at Les Gones he has scored 31 goals in 60 appearances, proving that given the resources around him suit his style, he can provide the goals necessary.

His goal scoring record surprisingly, given the upturn in opposition quality, increased at Lyon after joining from Celtic. But the most important thing about Dembélé is that he is a big game player. Throughout his relatively short career so far he has been the catalyst in some of his club’s most important matches in recent years.

At Celtic, his double dragged the Glasgow club to an impressive 3-3 draw against, then unbeaten, Manchester City in the Champions League. Similarly, his double against the same club, this time for Lyon, helped his side reach the semi-finals of the Champions League last season. Not forgetting his Old Firm debut ending in him scoring the first hat-trick in the fixture for a Celtic player since Harry Hood 43 years prior. In the big moments, you can count on Moussa to provide what is necessary to drag the team over the line.

In a stylistic sense, he fits Los Colchoneros to a tee. He is an imposing, strong presence in the frontline, who can hold up the play with relative ease bringing others into the frame. This will suit the likes of João  Félix and Luis Suárez who thrive off of this sort of forward, as was present in a generally isolated performance in the recent derby against Real Madrid. Notwithstanding his physicality and hold up play, his technical ability on the ball is proficient and quite underrated, with his vision for the key pass something that has benefitted every team he has played for.

He is most definitely a confidence player and, with Atleti in a position to offer him a run of games, he will hit the ground running in a clinical sense, with his composure in front of goal, particularly in key moments, frankly unmatched by most of Europe’s number nines. Whilst he provides the physicality and presence of movement that Simeone loves from his centre forward, his general complete attributes show him to be a well-rounded presence both in build-up play and in front of goal.

What I feel sums up the composed, level-headed nature of Dembélé is that he lets off a small number of shots in games. In the 2019/20 season, he only let off an average of 2.1 shots per game in Ligue 1, despite this, he still scored 16 goals in 24 starts. That is the mark of a top player, someone who looks for the right opportunity and makes their efforts on goal count, rather than forcing play that simply isn’t there.

Throughout his career, the Frenchman has been sensible in the moves he has made, always thinking about his long term progression. When his Fulham contract was expiring, the likes of Tottenham were interested in his services, but he knew he would play a bit-part role in the Premier League aged 19 at the time. Instead, he felt his development would be best served under Brendan Rodgers at Celtic, enabling him to experience European football, be the main man leading the line and win trophies early in his career.

Although the relationship between Rodgers and Dembélé ended frostily, with the latter forcing through a move to Lyon in 2018, the forward had bulked up physically and instilled a composure in the big moments that would enable him to take the next step. Lyon provided that ladder for consistent European qualification as well as a chance to test himself domestically against the might of PSG. This has seen his technical ability improve over the years and his all-round team play become much more of an asset than it had previously been. A club like Atlético Madrid stand as the inevitable next step for a player that sees himself reaching the very top of the game and Atleti will be better for it. Currently sitting top of LaLiga, Diego Simeone’s side are aiming to secure their first league title since 2014. With Dembélé boosting the attacking department alongside Suárez and the more mature João Félix, the Madrid club could be celebrating another title in the Spanish capital in 2021.

Sean McGinlay

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