Ousmane Who? Semedo shows exactly why he’s Alves’ heir apparent

Let’s get one thing clear from the get-go: Ousmane Dembele is one of the most talented players in world football, and this writer’s first-choice signing to replace Neymar when the Brazilian announced his departure. The young Frenchman playing alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez is a tantalizing prospect, one which, when Dembele adapts to his new teammates, will bear great fruit for Ernesto Valverde.

The fact is, though, that against Juventus FC there was another player, also signed this summer, who impressed in a position where Barca have had a lot of trouble over the past couple of seasons. Nelson Semedo was bought and presented at Barcelona without too much fanfare and early rumours surrounding the Portuguese full-back stated that he was ‘worse than Douglas’. It’s safe to say that the Juve game put such rumours firmly into the metaphorical trash can, where they belong, as Semedo was a key component in a comprehensive performance by Valverde’s men. To put into context just how impressive Semedo has been, and how much Barca have needed a player like him, there’s a need to understand exactly why the right-back role has been such a problem for the club. A big part of that problem, ironically, was Dani Alves, and just how good he was at doing exactly what was needed of him at the right time.

Pep Guardiola made Alves the most expensive defensive player at the time when he arrived from Sevilla, primarily due to Alves’ ability to make the right-flank completely his own. Only Guardiola knows whether he always envisioned Messi in that false 9 role, but with Messi eventually moving into the role he’s rediscovered recently under Valverde, Alves had a huge task on his hand. The entire right-wing was his to do with as he pleased, but this also meant that if things weren’t working out, either offensively or defensively, on the right, the blame fell on him entirely.

He had to juggle 3 main jobs:

  1. Providing width on the right to stretch opposition defences while putting in the occasional dangerous cross.
  2. Forming triangles with Messi, Xavi and Busquets in midfield and playing quick one-twos to disrupt the opposition and set Leo on his way.
  3. Track back whenever the opposition countered and stop them from threatening the Barca goal

These were just his ‘primary’ responsibilities, gargantuan as they already were, as Dani Alves also found some spare time to score goals, produce wonderful through balls and make goal-saving tackles throughout his time at Barca, both under Pep and Luis Enrique.

Speaking of the Asturian coach, Alves, in all his glory, was able to adapt from Pep’s strict passing and possession system to Lucho’s more vertical game effortlessly. Under Luis Enrique, Xavi was reduced to a role from the bench, Messi returned to his position on the right and Ivan Rakitic took Xavi’s place, trying to implement Lucho’s more vertical ideas. None of this fazed the Brazilian right-back though, as although he wasn’t required to dominate the right to the same extent in an attacking sense, a lot more combination play and tracking back was required from him to both give Messi a little bit of freedom and allow Rakitic to integrate into the system effectively. The rest is history, as Lucho’s team managed a treble that season, a big chunk of credit for which goes to the Messi-Alves-Rakitic trio.

Nelson Semedo hasn’t had an extended period of time to prove himself and we, as a fanbase, need to be cautious and try not to jump to too many conclusions this early in the season. The game against Juventus FC, which was important for so many reasons, was an excellent stage for Semedo to show the Blaugrana what they’ve been missing since Dani Alves moved to Juventus.

He’s shown in league games that him and Gerard Deulofeu are starting to form a good understanding and will cause problems for defenders, but in the Champions League, on Dembele’s first start, it was clear that a very dangerous partnership could be on the cards once both players are more settled into their respective roles. Semedo also happened to be tasked with keeping Paulo Dybala and Douglas Costa quiet. Just how well he fared there was typified by an instance in the first half, where Dybala, racing through on goal, was forced to send a weak shot straight into the arms of Ter Stegen as Nelson was steaming in behind him, breathing down his neck and applying the necessary pressure. As much as I love Sergi Roberto, he wouldn’t have had the pace to do that and Juve may have had a goal had Barca not had the Portuguese to count on. The thing which most excited this writer, however, was just how skillful the new right-back really is. One turn, where he left two players for dead and nearly burst into the box, exemplified that he has it in his locker to be a real attacking outlet for Barca, and will only gain confidence to be just that with time. Against Juve he was more focused on his defensive responsibilities due to Alba’s marauding runs down the left, but as he gets more comfortable alongside his new teammates the two will learn to share the attacking responsibilities, and Semedo looks like he may even have the edge over Alba in that field.

Ever since Dani Alves left, Barca have had a struggle replacing him, even if Mr. Remontada has filled in admirably for the Brazilian. In Semedo, Barca have someone who has the potential to be just as valuable as their greatest ever right-back. He will make mistakes and needs time to integrate fully into the team, but his progress so far is Umtiti-esque, which is the biggest compliment I can give him 4 games into the season. Yes, Ousmane Dembele has the potential to be a world-beater, but against Juve he was firmly the second-best new signing on the pitch. Here’s to hoping from more of the same from Nelson Semedo.

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  • anathalie durand

    What is wrong with saying “The thing which most excited me” or “us” rather than “The thing which most excited this writer.” Somehow ‘this writer’s first-choice’ to repeat ‘this writer’ twice, felt like he wanted to divert the reader’s attention (send her looking for that writer in fact). A real flow breaker.

    And though we get the point about the signing precedence ‘this writer’ is trying to establish, the title feels quite misleading… for two signings made a month apart, during season recess… Especially that in nobody’s mind the player Ousmane would ever be linked to a… RB succession? I admit it is intriguing enough to get readers to see where that title is going… but still, it seems misplaced.

    Beyond these distractions, the content makes a good case about Semedo’s future in his role. It also throws this reader a heartbreaking question. As Dembele would get his marks, and Nelson too, would the link up with Semedo phase out the Semedo-Delofeu good prospects if proven more dangerous?

    Sighs. Pep was right. Sitting on this team’s bench is no party.

  • Jordan Saf

    A couple of things about this article:

    1. The title: if you want to make a case for Semedo, a right back, a more relevant and catchier title should make reference to Alves, not Dembele. Mention the latter when you want to discuss Neymar for example.

    2. The phrase “this writer”: the first time it made sense. To mention it more made it come across condescending.

    3. The lag: TotalBarca has become so slow in delivering news, opinions and analyses that I find myself checking it once or twice a week, if that. Your piece on Semeso is something I’ve discussed in a comment days ago.

    4. Alves was not as electric as you seem to remember him in the Lucho days. Partly because of age catching up to him, but mostly because the possession-based system in Pep’s time allowed him the time to track back, position himself …etc. He left us exposed often in the Lucho days.

    5. So far, Semedo is more than just an Alves replacement. He’s unique in his own right. He seems more responsible than Alves; defence is his first priority and fancy footwork is used only when needed. I can only hope he continues on this path and develops his attacking prowess.

    • anonymous

      1. The point the title is trying to make is that so far, semedo’s been the more exciting signing, although I’m sure Dembele will come through sooner rather than later.

      2. It wasn’t really my intention to come across as condescending but I’ll keep that in mind for my future writing, thanks for that.

      3. This was Semedo’s best performance and it was also against our biggest opposition, so it’s safe to assume now that he can do it on the biggest stage. Talking about him while he’s only played a few games against the like of Espnayol, who to be fair should be no competition to us, is premature in my opinion. It’s not about lag; it’s about being sure of what we have.

      4. Yes age did catch up with him but for the most part he adapted really well, and during Lucho’s first season at least was a joy to watch. His assist for Suarez against Madrid comes to mind.

      5. Agree with that statement somewhat but I believe we’ll see more of his attacking prowess as he gets more used to his system and Valverde starts trusting that side of the pitch a bit more. Right now, Alba is a lot more experienced and with Iniesta the more reliable option.