Tottenham Hotspur: Why Moussa Dembele Was Spurs' Star Against Inter Milan

Dan TalintyreSenior Analyst IIMarch 15, 2013

MILAN, ITALY - MARCH 14:  Moussa Dembele (R) of Tottenham Hotspur competes for the ball with of Esteban Cambiasso (L) FC Internazionale Milano during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 Second Leg match between FC Internazionale Milano and Tottenham Hotspur at San Siro Stadium on March 14, 2013 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur were completely dominated by Inter Milan in the second leg of their Europa League clash, and they should have been eliminated as a result of it.

Yet, in the midst of defensive frailties and offensive inconsistencies stood a man who emerged as Spurs' star on the night—central midfielder Moussa Dembele.

The former Fulham midfielder has only been with the North London club since the 2012 summer transfer, but he proved his weight in gold Thursday night as he desperately sought to save Tottenham's chances at European glory in 2013.

He was far from perfect (as was every Spurs player on the night), but his performance was a rare highlight in an otherwise frustrating night that would have pleased Andre Villas-Boas to no end. Especially given their qualification through to the next round of the competition and the fact that they weren't on the receiving end of one of the most incredible comebacks in football.

All thanks to Dembele.

The Belgian international originally started the match against Inter on the right flank, but he operated more as a central midfielder once the game started.

And from the first few minutes, it seemed obvious that Inter were going to gain control of this match and threaten Spurs throughout the night. That would prove to be correct, but it would also force Dembele to play in a role that he would not consider himself to be most effective in.

Dembele, at both Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur, is an attacking midfielder, who is at his best when pushing the ball forward through the middle.

He isn't a right-winger who can sprint forward and track back on the right flank; he certainly isn't a defensive midfielder who can hold up a team going through the middle. Tottenham have the likes of Sandro and Scott Parker to fill those roles, and they therefore don't need Dembele.

Yet, due to Inter's attacking presence and sheer control of the match, the Belgian international was forced to do much more defending than usual.

And whilst he wasn't perfect, he was very, very strong.

Dembele chalked up two tackles and four interceptions according to WhoScored. He blocked a shot and was able to turn his defensive solidity into attacking strength with ease—beating six Inter defenders on successful dribbles throughout the night.

He recorded 108 touches on the night and managed a staggering 94 percent pass completion rate. Throw that in with his two goal-scoring opportunities created and his shot on target that led to the crucial goal for Emmanuel Adebayor and it was a very successful night out for the Belgian.

It was also interesting to note how Inter were forced to attack the North London club once Dembele had done his best to set himself up centrally.

After being picked off a few times, the Italian powerhouse resorted to more aerial forms of attack, with crosses and long balls proving to be a key element to their attack. Combined, they would have 105 crosses and long balls compared to just nine through balls.

Such was the presence of Dembele (and Parker) in the middle. 

Despite it being a largely frustrating night for Dembele—different role than usual, no support in attack, forced to do a lot—he refused to give in. He was hustling and running as aggressively for the crucial away goal in extra time as he was at the start of the whistle.

And as a result, he emerged a winner alongside Tottenham Hotspur.

He was nowhere near perfect—he was dispossessed a number of times and turned the ball over many times more. One of those would directly lead to an Inter goal, but the midfielder never lost heart—continuing to work tirelessly in a rather fruitless position on the night.

Dembele would be justly rewarded at the end with victory.

Even in a 4-1 loss, where Spurs were completely outplayed by their opponents, Dembele shone, and seemingly made the £15 million transfer fee completely worth it for Andre Villas-Boas in the process.