After an inauspicious, injury-hit start to life at Barcelona, Ousmane Dembele is finally finding his feet. His budding partnership with Lionel Messi, in particular, is one that will give the Blaugrana great hope as they enter the decisive phase of the 2017-18 season.
Little by little the ever-demanding Camp Nou faithful is discovering what Dembele offers. The ex-Borussia Dortmund hotshot scored his first goal for the club against Chelsea on Wednesday, a fine finish after Messi's magic had opened up the path to the net.
The effusive praise the No. 10 gave Dembele was ample proof that Messi, Barcelona's undisputed leader, has taken the 20-year-old under his wing. Indeed, for several games beforehand the Argentine had sought out his new team-mate, trying to work him gently into the rigours of one of the world's biggest clubs after struggling so acutely at the beginning.
Dembele was signed for one reason, and one reason only: to replace Paris Saint-Germain-bound Neymar, Messi's great friend on and off the pitch. While injury has frustrated the Frenchman's attempts to adapt until well into 2018, signs of a growing understanding with Messi were evident in his maiden goal. Having shaken off the attentions of former team-mate Cesc Fabregas, Messi made a beeline for Thibaut Courtois in the Chelsea net, but always with Dembele in his ample peripheral vision.
Luis Suarez, meanwhile, laid the bait with an intelligent diagonal run, and the Chelsea defence fell for the forward's diversion hook, line and sinker. A huge avenue was left for Dembele on the right and once he had received a perfectly measured ball from Messi, he only had to settle his nerves before smashing past Courtois for Barca's second of the evening.
That connection between the old master and his young apprentice has not appeared out of the blue, of course.
Messi had been seeking the new kid on the block for some time. Dembele made his reappearance in the starting line-up on February 11 after recovering from his latest muscle injury, and since then has gone from strength to strength.
In his first game, against Getafe, he came in for Paco Alcacer and took up a spot on the right wing, linking up principally with Ivan Rakitic and Sergi Roberto. Messi fed Dembele one solitary pass, a mere glimpse of what was to come.
Rakitic upped the ante in his next outing, increasing his service against Girona where Nelson Semedo and later Roberto joined him on the right. The No. 10, however, now had him on his radar. Dembele received no less than nine passes from the Argentine in a 6-1 rout of the fellow Catalans, and while Dembele failed to open his account he did contribute with an assist for Luis Suarez that closed out an easy win.
It was the youngster's first full 90 minutes in a Barca shirt and the verdict was unanimous: it was his best display yet since moving from Dortmund.
The acid test, however, was from the start against Chelsea, and Dembele passed with flying colours. The dynamic forward is now a real option for his side, particularly in the Champions League with Philippe Coutinho unable to participate - and if his partnership with Messi continues to grow, that extra venom up front could just make the difference for Barca as they look to wrest the title back off rivals Real Madrid.