Without Dembele, Barcelona again looking to mend its attack

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The responsibility to help the Barcelona attack may fall again on Gerard Deulofeu, who failed to impress when he was first given the chance to replace Neymar.
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Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale (bottom) celebrates scoring his team's third goal against Real Sociedad with teammate Borja Mayoral during their Spanish league match at the Anoeta stadium in San Sebastian on September 17, 2017. Real won 3-1.

Barcelona again has to try to find solutions to keep its attack competitive.

Just when Ousmane Dembele was starting to get used to his role as Neymar's replacement, the young forward was struck by an injury that will keep him sidelined for up to four months.

With the transfer market closed and no other top forward 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 for the offense with eight goals in seven matches in all competitions this season.

The Catalan club leads the Spanish league after winning its first four matches. Its next match is on Tuesday against Eibar at the Camp Nou stadium.

The responsibility to help the attack may fall again on Gerard Deulofeu, who failed to impress when he was first given the chance to replace Neymar.

Barcelona had not yet signed Dembele when it promoted the 23-year-old player to try to fill the hole left by the Brazilian star when he moved to Paris Saint-Germain in a world-record transfer worth more than 220 million euros (US$262 million).

Deulofeu struggled under the spotlight, though, and only improved 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 and 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 along with Messi and Suarez.

Barcelona failed to bring any other top players 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.

Deulofeu replaced Dembele when the 20-year-old forward injured his left thigh tendon midway through the first half of Barcelona's 2-1 win at Getafe on Saturday.

Dembele will undergo surgery to repair the tendon on Tuesday in Finland. He was photographed on a wheelchair as he made his way to the Barcelona airport on Monday.

The France forward was making only his third appearance with Barcelona. He is likely to miss the entire group stage of the UEFA Champions League.

Barcelona signed Dembele from Borussia Dortmund in a deal that could reach nearly 150 million euros, the biggest ever in the history of the Catalan club.

Return to action

Meanwhile, Real Madrid striker Cristiano Ronaldo will return to action against Real Betis on Wednesday after serving a five-match suspension, as the champion looks to keep the pressure on Barcelona.

Ronaldo was sent off during the Spanish Super Cup win over Barcelona on August 13 and banned for five matches after pushing the referee, meaning he is yet to feature in the league this season.

The Portuguese hitman struck twice in his only appearance since the incident, a comfortable 3-0 win over Apoel Nicosia in the UCL last Wednesday.

Youngster Borja Mayoral and Gareth Bale struck for a weakened Real on Sunday as it beat Real Sociedad 3-1, but as well as Ronaldo, Marcelo and Toni Kroos are expected to return after suspension and injury, respectively.

Despite the impressive display against a previously unbeaten Sociedad, Ronaldo's return will be vital for Real as it looks to take advantage of a soft fixture schedule over the next two months to push Barcelona.

The Catalans sit top of the table and are four points ahead of Real, in fourth place.

Real's home clash with Betis marks the start of a run of league fixtures which, on paper, it should win, including home games against Espanyol, Eibar and Las Palmas.

"If we carry on like this we can do a lot of damage," said Real coach Zinedine Zidane after his side’s win in the Basque Country.

"We're back on track but we've got to keep going because there's another game on Wednesday."

Mid-table Betis have not beaten Real in the league at the Bernabeu in 19 years and only five times in 51 attempts.

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