BARCELONA — Ernesto Valverde says Ousmane Dembele has “that spark” to succeed at Barcelona and reiterated the club’s desire to keep hold of him after the France forward scored twice in a 5-1 win against Villarreal on Wednesday.
Dembele created Barca’s first goal for Philippe Coutinho and added two of his own late on, including a stunning solo effort in stoppage time after running with the ball from his own half.
It’s been a tough first season in Spain for Dembele, who has failed to establish himself in Valverde’s side on a regular basis after returning from a long injury layoff.
However, there have been signs recently that the 20-year-old is beginning to find his feet at Camp Nou, with his brace against Villarreal taking his tally to four goals in a Barcelona shirt.
“Dembele is a player with a lot of talent: great technique, can use both feet, he’s quick, he’s got that spark, he unbalances defences,” Valverde said in his postgame news conference.
“We think he can help us. He’s very young and he has a lot of time ahead of him still. All players need time to adapt; when you’re young there are things you need to learn, but the second goal he scored today was incredible.”
Dembele’s performance comes after he was linked with a move to Liverpool, with Catalan newspaper Mundo Deportivo suggesting Barca would be prepared to let him leave on loan next season.
“Who has said that?” Valverde responded when asked if the former Borussia Dortmund forward could leave the club. “Of course we think that he will still be with us next season.”
Paulinho and Lionel Messi were also on target for La Liga’s champions, who are now just two games away from completing an unbeaten league campaign, while Villarreal replied through Nicola Sansone.
If Barca can avoid defeat against Levante and Real Sociedad they will become the first-ever side to go an entire 38-game campaign in Spain’s top flight without losing.
Valverde says that remains the intention and that they will not ease up even though they no longer have any trophies to play for after wrapping up the title.
“We showed that our intention is to always be as competitive as possible, despite already being champions,” he added. “Even coming into this game after an intense match on Sunday [against Real Madrid] and all the noise that comes with Clasico, the team did well.
“We were intense. In the second half we dropped our level a little, they pressed us a bit more… But in the end we sealed the win with two great goals — and the first three weren’t bad, either.”
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