Tottenham: Why Dembele Means Spurs Won't Miss Modric and Van Der Vaart

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Tottenham: Why Dembele Means Spurs Won't Miss Modric and Van Der Vaart
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The signing of Moussa Dembele late in the summer transfer window offers Spurs fans the prospect of an exciting change in midfield set-up which will help compensate for the loss of Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart.

The Belgian arrived at White Hart Lane two days before the transfer deadline in a £15 million deal from Fulham, who perhaps weren't as reticent to let him go as they might have been, seeing as they had already signed another Moussa Dembele a few weeks previously.

Many reports pegged him as a replacement for Modric, who had completed his protracted move to Real Madrid earlier that same week, but the players are very different.

Neither was he brought in as a like-for-like substitute for Rafael van der Vaart, who made his return to Hamburg on deadline day a matter of hours before Clint Dempsey became the second player in a week to swap Fulham for Tottenham.

Modric is a midfield orchestrator, with his clever movement and fluid passing giving him every chance of thriving at the Bernabeu even more than he did at Spurs now that the players around are of the highest calibre.

Van der Vaart is far less mobile than his former Croatian teammate but his supreme technical ability and vision mean that, more often than not, he is able to pick out the pass or shot that he envisions more than most players.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Dembele's makeup perhaps lies somewhere in between those two. A slick ball-carrier with excellent dribbling ability, his game is as much about advancing the play by bringing it forward himself as it is by passing his way up the pitch.

While Spurs head coach Andre Villas-Boas would no doubt have loved to keep Modric on the books, it appears he was behind selling Van der Vaart. Given the Dutchman's lack of pace and constant questions being asked about his fitness, the decision was understandable even if it was a bitter pill for many Spurs fans to swallow.

A key reason behind the club's early season struggles could well be the absence through injury of Scott Parker. Once the England international is back on the scene, he and Sandro are expected to form the basis of a 4-2-3-1 formation which will allow the two wingers, No. 10 and a centre-forward more freedom. In that respect, Dembele's pace and more ruthless attacking instincts perhaps make him better equipped to that system than Modric or Van der Vaart, who were largely deployed in a flatter 4-4-1-1 under previous boss Harry Redknapp.    

Fulham manager Martin Jol was very shrewd to see that Dembele's abilities were far better suited to midfield rather than as a forward, the position he was generally classified in upon his arrival from AZ Alkmaar two years ago. While Dembele was never the most proficient goal-scorer—only once in his career has he reached double-figures for league goals in a season—he showed with his debut goal for Spurs against Norwich that he is capable if given the opportunity.

A real upshot of Dembele moving further back down the field is the flourishing of his defensive contribution. His height and strength have given him the tools, and Dembele does not shirk his responsibilities when his team does not have the ball as he quite easily could.

There is no escaping the fact that swapping Modric and Van der Vaart for Dembele and Dempsey is on paper a change down in quality. However, with Dembele's rate of progression on a consistently upward trajectory and him only just turning 25, his best years are set to come at Tottenham.

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