In all the euphoria surrounding Tottenham’s latest convincing assault on England’s Champions League spots, the criticism most often leveled at the team is that they rely too much on the heart-stopping abilities of Gareth Bale. Too often, critics say, Tottenham’s mediocrity is masked by Bale’s plethora of attacking qualities.
But this oft-trotted out assessment misses several key features of the unit forged by Andre Villas-Boas. Certainly, I could write a whole article about Spurs’ tactical nuances under the current boss, but the one aspect I will focus on here is the central midfield—where Moussa Dembélé has emerged as a key component of Tottenham’s new direction.
Following the departures of Luka Modric, and to a lesser extent, Rafael Van der Vaart, there were concerns as to the style and the quality of Tottenham’s midfield play. The departure of these two creative pass-masters left a void, which, in the eyes of many, Spurs would be unable to fill.
Now while Bale has taken some of the creative burden from these two, and while a supporting cast including the likes of Aaron Lennon, Clint Dempsey, Gylfi Sigurdsson and latterly, Lewis Holtby, have contributed in their own individual ways, the contribution of Dembélé has been marked.
Beyond the long-range belters, such as the stunning late winner against Lyon, Dembélé has contributed to the style and approach of this new Tottenham outfit. His robust style is ideal for picking up the ball and driving Spurs’ attacks through the middle of the park. His dribbling is often awesome, while his pass conversion rate of over 90 percent is impressive.
Crucially, the strength and dynamism of Dembélé’s partnership with Sandro earlier in the season negated the need to play a third midfielder, allowing Spurs to operate with two men up front. The Belgian offers the kind of power and presence that Modric couldn’t muster, while also demonstrating his ability to use the ball intelligently and effectively.
The former striker was already an established individual before this season, and indeed was often on stunning form during his spell with Fulham, but his improvement this season has been eye-opening, and Dembélé has emboldened his burgeoning reputation.