Tottenham Focus - The Dembelé effect
Premier League clubs and Belgians are a bit like newspaper editors and lawyers at the moment. Everyone thinks they need one and hopes theirs is the best. Tottenham bought two Belgians in the summer and so far, they look to be excellent acquisitions. Jan Vertonghen has become a keystone of the defence, whilst Moussa Dembelé has already shown how essential he may be to the Spurs team since 29 August 2012.
Up until then, Spurs had taken 1 point from their opening two matches and looked to be missing the midfield creativity of the departed Luka Modric. Dembelé’s impact was immediate - scoring on his debut at home to Norwich in a 20 minute spell as substitute. Apart from coming on as a late replacement against West Ham, Dembelé has started six games in the league - Spurs have won all six. Perhaps tellingly during his period out injured Spurs, won only once in the league, losing to Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Wigan.
The Belgian has been influential alongside Sandro in the holding midfield role utilised by André Villas-Boas in a 4-2-3-1 formation. The Belgian and the Brazilian compliment each other, Sandro’s steel to the more silky touch of Dembelé. This appears an improvement on the Scott Parker-Modric partnership, with the two players more adept at both aspects of the role - for example Sandro’s 15 key passes or Dembelé’s last ditch penalty area tackle against Liverpool.
The Belgian’s defensive side is impressive for a player in a creative role: 13 interceptions and 28 tackles won at a ratio of 3.5 per match. A ratio not only over twice that of Modric’s last season, but the best of any Spurs player this. However, as good as his defensive side is, Dembelé was bought for his creativity. There are similarities to Modric - his openeness for the ball, his ability to dictate Spurs’ tempo and keep possession through short pass and moves. Additionally though, Dembelé is strong in the tackle and as such often retains the ball.
Perhaps where he comes into his own is his dribbling ability - showing his recent history as an attacking midfielder. To date in the league he has made 15 successful dribbles and he appears to glide past players to create space for himself and get in a better position to make key passes [12 so far]. Couple this with a passing accuracy of 88.5%, his defensive side plus successful long ball accuracy [36/39], ideal for Spurs’ pacy counter-attacking, and his influence becomes obvious.
Are the skills he provides integral to Villas-Boas’ plans in linking play? The Portuguese’ orginal target of Joao Moutinho is a similar player and as stated when the Belgian was injured and replaced by Tom Huddlestone, Spurs struggled. As such, is there a concern that, with Dembele’s recurring hip injury, does a similar player stilll need to be brought in? Perhaps, but Dembelé merits the starting slot and Moutinho would not come as an understudy, whilst the promising Thomas Carroll may not have the defensive side yet. Spurs may still need to look for alternatives.
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