Mousa Dembele: Assessing His Contribution for Tottenham Hotspur so Far
In recent weeks, the contributions that Clint Dempsey and Lewis Holtby have made since joining Tottenham Hotspur this season have been examined. Now it is the turn of their fellow midfielder Mousa Dembele.
The Belgian midfielder has been an integral part of Tottenham's top-four aspiring side since arriving late in August.
As well as looking back on what Dembele has brought to his new club so far, there is also much to look forward to in the climax of a campaign in which he may well play a pivotal role in how well his team does.
Mousa Dembele made an immediate impact on his arrival at Tottenham, scoring a well-worked effort in a 1-1 draw with Norwich City.
Anyone who had only seen him fleetingly in his time at Fulham would have been forgiven for thinking that being a skilled and occasionally deadly operator around the penalty box was his primary function. While it is true Dembele is capable of summoning such moments, going back to last season, he has been earning his living as a central midfielder.
Dembele was brought in to Spurs' midfield after Luka Modric's departure last summer. Describing him as a direct replacement is a little off the mark, though he has filled the void left by the Croatian.
Like Modric, Dembele is not so much about the final assist, but what comes before that. He is a solid passer of the ball, though perhaps not one who has not fully taken the shackles off his more creative instincts (a wonderful through ball he played to Emmanuel Adebayor against Lyon did hint at a more imaginative streak).
Dembele's main calling card as a midfielder is his dynamism. He can get on the ball and drive Spurs forward, mixing it up with close dribbling and bursts of speed. This ability to up the tempo is a fine tool to have and is one of his ways of influencing games.
The other is—to put it in a bluntly English manner—his willingness to get stuck in. Dembele does not shirk a challenge and relishes the confrontations that make up a midfield battle. It is a part of his game that he is still honing to maximum effect, as it does bring with it a tendency to get drawn out of position. But along with the work of Scott Parker and Sandro (before he was injured) it ensures Spurs have some steel in midfield.
Having touched upon it on the previous page, Dembele has established good working relationships with his teammates on the pitch.
The quickness with which he has done so was underlined by how missed the 25-year-old was when injured for the latter part of last autumn. In three losses against top-four rivals—Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal—Tottenham were outfought and out-created in midfield.
Sandro fought a losing battle as his team's main extra-line of resistance, while further forward Clint Dempsey especially was left isolated without Dembele there to link up with.
Dembele's deputy Tom Huddlestone is a fine player, but against players the caliber of Juan Mata and David Silva, he was neither mobile nor positionally disciplined enough to stop them having the run on Spurs.
The Belgium international's return to fitness heralded an upturn in form for Tottenham, since when they have lost one game in the league.
It has not all been smooth sailing since. The loss of Sandro to injury robbed Dembele of a committed, defensive counterpoint to his more impulsive style. Scott Parker has come in for the Brazilian, and the two of them took a few games to develop a working balance. There is still work to be done, but progress has been made, as is evidenced by improved showings against West Bromwich Albion and Lyon.
What Comes Next?
Mousa Dembele has played so much football of late that is not surprising he has looked a little tired at times. Against Newcastle United he had one of his quieter games (though his effort could not be faulted).
It was positive then, that against Lyon last week, Dembele put in arguably his best performance for a month or so. Especially with a lot of big fixtures on the horizon for Tottenham.
There is the second leg against Lyon in the Europa League, and then consecutive London derbies against West Ham United and Arsenal on the domestic front. Having seen how costly Dembele's absence was the last time Spurs played the Gunners, it is clear they can ill-afford to do without him again.
His manager, Andre Villas-Boas will have fingers and toes crossed that his midfielder can stay fit for the remainder of the season. If he can, he has a player who could be huge in fulfilling the team's ambitions this season.
Dembele was particularly good against Manchester United last September, and the prospect of him facing up against his top-four rivals over the spring will make for some intriguing battles. What he does will not alone win Spurs these big matches, but Dembele having a good game probably ranks high on a list of key things they need to go right.