MADRID: Barcelona has to rejig its attack again.
Just when Ousmane Dembele was getting used to his role as Neymar's replacement, the young forward was struck by a thigh injury that will keep him sidelined for up to four months.
With the transfer market closed and no other top forwards in the squad, Barcelona has to go back to the drawing board to find another partner for Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, who has been carrying the load with eight goals in seven matches.
The club leads the Spanish league after winning its first four matches. Its next match is on Tuesday against Eibar.
Dembele injured his left thigh tendon on Saturday in the first half of the 2-1 win at Getafe. He will undergo surgery on Tuesday in Finland. He was photographed in a wheelchair on Monday as he made his way to the Barcelona airport.
Gerard Deulofeu replaced Dembele at Getafe. The responsibility to help the attack may fall again on Deulofeu, who failed to impress when he was first given the chance to replace Neymar.
Barcelona had not yet signed Dembele when it promoted Deulofeu to try to fill the hole left by Neymar after he moved to Paris Saint-Germain. Deulofeu struggled in the spotlight, though, and improved only after being demoted to a secondary role. He eventually started to play well off the bench or when getting a chance to start in the absence of the regular starters.
Coach Ernesto Valverde may also replace Dembele by improvising other players in the position, including Denis Suarez, Sergi Roberto, Aleix Vidal, Andre Gomes or Paco Alcacer. It can also rely on youth players such as Jose Arnaiz or Carles Alena. Going forward, Arda Turan and Rafinha — who are injured — may get to play up front with Messi and Suarez.
"We have a lot of options to replace (Dembele), both in the first team and in the B team," Valverde said on Monday.
Barcelona failed to bring in any other top forwards in the offseason, with its only signings being Paulinho and Deulofeu, a product of the club's youth academy who had been playing with Everton.
Dembele was making only his third appearance with Barcelona. The France forward is likely to miss the entire group stage of the Champions League.
"He will need to have a lot of patience and work a lot on his own," Valverde said. "There will be good days and bad days, but he is young and will recover. We will all be supporting him."
Valverde said that maybe Dembele could have avoided the back-heel pass in which he got injured.
"Maybe that wouldn't have happened to a veteran player," said Valverde, a former striker.
Barcelona signed Dembele from Borussia Dortmund in a deal that could reach nearly 150 million euros ($180 million), the biggest in the club's history.