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Ousmane Dembele's injury provides latest opportunity for Gerard Deulofeu

If it's not one thing it's another for Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde. 

Appointed as Luis Enrique's successor at the very end of May, in the time which has followed he's seen Neymar leave for Paris Saint-Germain, a vote of no confidence launched against the club's board and the transfer window close with a failure to either buy or sell particularly sufficiently. 

Perhaps the only thing he has to take his share of the blame for is the 5-1 aggregate defeat to Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup. 

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Now, just when it seemed things were on the up, with five consecutive wins in all competitions, he's had one of the summer's few positives stripped from him. 

Ousmane Dembele arrived as the club's most expensive ever player as the answer to Neymar's departure. But after just three games in blaugrana, and only two starts, he finds himself sidelined for four months after rupturing a tendon in Saturday's win at Getafe. On Monday he flew to Helsinki, Finland, accompanied by Barca's club doctor Ricard Pruna, where he will be operated on Tuesday by specialist Sakari Orava. 

So, having replaced Neymar with Dembele, Valverde now has to figure out how to replace Dembele until the new year.   

The obvious option is Gerard Deulofeu. A lot has gone the forward's way since he returned to Barcelona this summer. Neymar's move to Paris opened up a space for him in the front three alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez at the beginning of the season. However, Barca were always going to spend some of the Neymar money on another attacker and when Dembele arrived for an initial fee of €105 million, Deulofeu, once again, reencountered that familiar feeling of being a backup player. 

But now he has been handed another opportunity. With Dembele sidelined until 2018, Deulofeu is the big benefactor. After all, it was Deulofeu who was starting games in the very small post-Neymar, pre-Dembele window and it was Deulofeu who came on for Dembele at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez at the weekend.   

Gerard Deulofeu has seemingly already had nine lives at Barcelona but gets another one with the injury to Ousmane Dembele.

"What I want him to do is to score lots of goals, to provide lots of assists and to work hard on defensive aspects," Valverde said on Monday when asked what he wanted from Deulofeu while Dembele's missing. 

"I want his wing to provide a headache for the opposition and for him to help his full-back... nothing special."

However, Valverde wouldn't commit to Deulofeu on a full-time basis in the absence of Dembele: "There are several players that can play that position, Deulofeu, Aleix Vidal, Denis Suarez, Andre Gomes... There's also Barca B. We will look for alternatives to put together a side."

Perhaps the most significant name on that list is one that isn't actually on it at all: Paco Alcacer. The former Valencia striker has been chopped from the squad for Eibar's visit on Tuesday, which, given Luis Suarez's form -- just one goal in five games this season -- and the absence of Dembele is worrying. 

Alcacer is a natural centre-forward but he has played wide since joining Barca last summer. 

Gomes, too, who reports suggest remains a target for Tottenham in January, has also been left out of the squad. The competition for Deulofeu is gradually decreasing. 

Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.


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