Manchester United may be forced to shelve their ongoing pursuit of Ousmane Dembele as Barcelona prepare to give their out-of-favour forward a starring role in the absence of Ansu Fati.
The Frenchman has been overlooked in recent months, with Barcelona willing to let him leave, but with 17-year-old star-in-the-making Fati now facing four months on the sidelines with a meniscus injury, the club are set to turn to Dembele.
The news may come as a blow to United, who came close to signing Dembele in the summer transfer window, only for the player to opt to stay at the Nou Camp.
There are concerns at Barcelona that, despite his attacking threat and speed, he lacks the defensive abilities to be able to succeed in their team.
Despite that, Sport report that Barcelona are now preparing to integrate Dembele back into the core of the team, bringing him in from the cold to be a regular starter under Ronald Koeman in the coming months.
Back in the summer, Barcelona were willing to let him leave in order to facilitate a deal for Memphis Depay, but it didn’t come to fruition after Dembele decided to stay in La Liga rather than head to Old Trafford on an initial loan move.
Saturday’s win over Real Betis saw promising winger Fati suffer a serious injury, meaning he needs surgery and could miss up to four months of action.
Dembele, who has a year and a half left on his contract but is in no hurry to sign an extension, now looks set to replace him, despite concerns from the hierarchy.
It has been reported that Koeman and Barca’s coaches don’t like his ‘tactical disorder and anarchy’ on the pitch, despite seeing his attacking potential – as shown by his goal against Betis.
It was noted that in the same game he offered little defensive help to Sergi Roberto, leaving him isolated and giving Betis regular opportunities to find a way back into the game.
Barcelona also face a significant financial issue if they can’t tie the 23-year-old down to a new contract, given that they paid £95m to sign him from Borussia Dortmund and now could lose him for nothing.
Manchester United are still said to be interested in Dembele if a move for Jadon Sancho doesn’t pay off in the coming transfer windows. Although a deal is possible for January, it is understood a summer swoop is more likely.