Ousmane Dembele looks set to be in Barcelona’s match squad for just the second time this season when Benfica visit Camp Nou on Tuesday.
The 24-year-old French winger’s injury struggles throughout his Barca career have been well publicised, with the former Borussia Dortmund talent yet to make more than 20 LaLiga starts in a single season.
He appeared to be getting back on track last season, with 19 league starts and 44 overall appearances across all competitions, but Dembele had to undergo knee surgery at the end of June that kept him out of action for four months.
Then, after returning to the pitch with a 25-minute cameo in the 1-0 win at Dynamo Kiev on November 2, Dembele was ruled out again with a hamstring injury.
While it remains to be seen if he can feature against Benfica, new head coach Xavi has deemed him fit enough to be a part of a 22-player squad from which he will make his final selections. Teams are allowed up to 12 substitutes on the bench.
Barcelona announced that group on Tuesday, nine hours before kick-off.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) November 23, 2021
Dembele is entering a pivotal period in his Barca career, with his contract due to expire at the end of the season.
But, if he can stay fit, Dembele appears to have a real lifeline in Xavi, who backed the France international to be the “best in the world” in his position if he lives up to his potential.
Xavi made it clear during his first news conference as Barca coach that he sees tying Dembele down to a new contract as a “priority”.
Barca go into Tuesday’s game second in Group E with six points, but defeat would see Benfica move above them – Bayern Munich are first and already all but confirmed to finish top of the group due to a goal difference that is at least 19 goals better than the other three teams.