Football Features

Memphis Depay: A left-field Luis Suarez replacement for Barcelona?

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 15:38, 11 September 2020

Memphis Depay has been linked with a sensational move to Barcelona.

Reports say the Dutch forward is seen as a cheaper alternative to Inter Milan striker Lautaro Martinez as the Blaugrana look to reinforce their attack, given the impending departure of star striker Luis Suárez.

The rumours are predictable given that the new Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman previously managed Depay for the Dutch national team. Plus, the forward has just one year remaining on his contract with Lyon, who he impressively helped guide into the Champions League semi-finals in 2019/20 (further than Barcelona went, amusingly).

The need for a striker has been clear in Catalonia for many years now, with Suárez crying out for a decent challenger or back-up to ensure that he can rotate out and spare his increasingly weary limbs.

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But Suárez has had to play all the time because Barcelona just haven’t signed a credible alternative. Someone like Depay, in fact, would have worked nicely because of his tactical versatility. And it’s that versatility which could still make Depay an incredibly good signing for Barcelona, even when Suárez departs.

As seen with the Netherlands national side, Koeman is a coach who likes to use wingers, and as such is unlikely to persevere with both Leo Messi and Antoine Griezmann in the wide positions. Barcelona tried that to no success in 2019/20, but in 2020/21 one of them is going to occupy a central role in the biggest of games and at least one winger will be wide.

This leads us to Depay’s first benefit, because he is a winger. So instantly he could slot into an XI that contains both of Barcelona’s other two superstar forwards. Operating from the left half-space, Depay would be a reference point for attacks in the final third, a playmaking node for others (particularly the left-back) to make runs off. However he could also make runs off the ball himself, providing a moving target for Messi and/or Griezmann’s passes.

Obviously Barcelona do not lack wingers in their current squad, with Ousmane Dembélé, Ansu Fati and Francisco Trincao able to play out wide. But the thing is: Dembélé’s injury history means relying solely on him is risky and Trincao is untested at the highest levels of the game, and is more of a prospect (for now). Fati is the ‘truth’, but he’s also 17 so Barcelona will be wary of over-exposing him. Moreover, Koeman is rumoured to be considering him for a central role.

All of which is to say, Barcelona need a reliable winger. Someone with proven skill and production. That’s Depay. Since he joined Lyon in 2016/17, only Dimitri Payet and Angel Di Maria have created more chances than his 249. He has been a consistent creative force for Lyon and a major reason for their recent prosperity (such as it has been).

But of course, as said earlier with Suárez’s imminent departure, Barcelona also need a striker, and this is Depay’s second benefit, because he has become a fully capable striker at Lyon for the last few years, playing there with fantastic authority when Lyon want someone with a bit more guile and creativity (when they want a pure poacher, they go for Moussa Dembélé).

As much as Messi and Griezmann can play centrally as a false nine, neither are really any good with their back to goal, pinning defenders and linking play as an attacking pivot like Suárez has done for the past six years. Sometimes you need a striker to do this, just to create room for others against a deep-lying defence, and it’s a role Depay is able to play well.

So Depay could play centrally as part of an XI featuring just one of Messi or Griezmann out wide. Or it’s even feasible that Barcelona could rest both their big names and deploy Depay as the attacking hub for Dembélé, Fati and Trincao to play off. This would ensure that Koeman has an experienced head to lead the young band of wingers in attack.

Going even further, if Koeman really does intend to try Fati as a central striker than Depay would be an ideal companion on the left, as he could interchange positions with the young Spaniard to help ease him into the position. He would offer Barcelona so many options in attack by virtue of being able to play up-front and wide-left.

Had Barcelona signed a multifaceted player like Depay a year or two ago, it’s highly likely that their embarrassing Champions League defeats against Liverpool and Bayern Munich could have been avoided. But while he is a stylish player, he doesn’t have the star-studded reputation of a lot of the players Barcelona’s board tend to chase, so nothing happened.

But now not only do they have a coach who would fight for Depay, recognising his talents, but Depay’s reputation itself has improved thanks to an impressive season where even injury couldn’t stop him from thriving. This can be seen clearly through Football Index. While there have been peaks and troughs, the overall trend for Depay’s value has been consistent growth all year.

Memphis Depay’s changing Football Index value over the last year.

A year ago Depay was valued at £2.62. Now he is worth £4.73. That’s a big jump and one that shows just how much people are starting to appreciate the Dutch forward. People including Barcelona. And while Lyon owner Jean-Michel Aulas can be a tough negotiator, their coach Rudi Garcia has already joked that if any of his players had a chance to play for one of football’s elite that he would “drive them myself”.

And, well, it seems as though Depay really does have the chance to play for Barcelona. There are multiple positions for him to play, multiple roles he can occupy which will help the Blaugrana become one of the most fearsome sides in world football again.