Premier League: Outlining Mousa Dembele's Importance to Tottenham

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistSeptember 30, 2013

Tottenham Hotspur's Mousa Dembele has been a dominating presence of late in their midfield.
Tottenham Hotspur's Mousa Dembele has been a dominating presence of late in their midfield.Michael Steele/Getty Images

Over the last few matches, Mousa Dembele has gone about reiterating his importance to Tottenham Hotspur.

The midfielder was comparatively underwhelming up to and including the Arsenal loss at the beginning of September. Since then, his performances have been on a par with the best of those he put in during a largely consistent 2012-13 campaign.

Dembele's first season at Tottenham saw him swiftly establish himself as an integral part of Andre Villas-Boas' side.

The dynamism that earned that recognition has been on display in recent weeks again as he has settled into a burgeoning midfield partnership with Paulinho. The qualities previously associated with the Belgian remain, but he also appears to be successfully adjusting to the changing look of the Spurs side.

Unforeseen developments will almost certainly form part of the latter process. New faces in the team—such as Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela and Andros Townsend—are still being integrated. Accordingly, Villas-Boas will alter things as he sees fit.

As it applies to Dembele though, the current setup is working well.

Dembele played his part in making life difficult for Chelsea on Saturday.
Dembele played his part in making life difficult for Chelsea on Saturday.Clive Rose/Getty Images

In the wins over Norwich City and Cardiff City, the mix of width, pace and creativity in front of him and Paulinho ensured their efforts pressing in midfield were not in vain.

Spurs' greater share of possession in these two matches—68 percent and 63 percent respectively according to BBC Sport—was testament to their dominance of each game's flow.

This supporting element of Dembele's game can also be seen in his willingness to allow the Brazilian priority in joining attacks.

Shades of this were evident in the latter half of last season in his deference to Scott Parker's instincts bursting forward. The difference now is Paulinho is a more productive attacking player than his predecessor in the Spurs midfield, making it a more worthy sacrifice.

However, Dembele has not just become a holding midfielder. In the 1-1 draw with Chelsea this past weekend his all-round play came to the fore—as necessitated by the tougher competition.

His primary job in the previous two league games was helping to maintain Spurs' shape and rhythm. That was not disregarded completely on Saturday. He was still there, in and around the centre circle, obstructing opponents' potential paths to goal while also offering himself as a passing option to teammates.

The latter duty saw Dembele involved in the lead-up to Gyfli Sigurdsson's opener. He came to the latter's aid just left of the halfway line, received the ball and turned John Obi Mikel in one motion before passing to Christian Eriksen, having also attracted the attention of two other Chelsea players.

The 26-year-old assumed greater responsibility going forward following John Terry's equaliser as the need for a response to the Blues' resurgence became apparent.

A collection of terrific driving runs demonstrated Dembele's trademark skill and acceleration taking players on. On the 54th minute he dribbled past three Chelsea midfielders and then almost a fourth (commendably, he helped win the ball back having lost it on the last attempt). It did not lead anywhere but alerted him to the trouble he could cause the away side.

The ability to take opponents on is a key part of the versatile Dembele's game.
The ability to take opponents on is a key part of the versatile Dembele's game.Clive Rose/Getty Images

There were further attempts before—30 minutes later—a similarly tricky foray in the final third led to Dembele cleverly playing in Jermain Defoe. Unfortunately for Spurs, the striker was unable to curl his shot past Petr Cech.

Dembele did not see as much of the ball, but when he did, he realised what was needed of him. As noted by, he made 28 fewer passes than in the home match against Norwich. Knowing a more direct approach was required versus Jose Mourinho's side (particularly after they equalised), he successfully took on a Blues player eight times—six more than versus the Canaries.

Many players in his position are primarily strong in one or two areas. The multifaceted Dembele is a genuine all-rounder.

That versatility does not always come to the fore. Sometimes it is not required, other times Dembele is too passive (something some would argue is shown by a decrease in the number of goals per season he has scored over the years).

But it is there, and its presence gives Tottenham a player capable of competing with the Premier League's best.

Villas-Boas will be considering how best to extend and sustain Dembele's current purple patch. One option (that he seems to be taking in cup games) is giving him sufficient resting time.

The presence of the fit-again Sandro and more recent additions like Lewis Holtby and Etienne Capoue will help ensure the Belgium international is not overworked—as proved to be the case last season.

For the time being at least, he would be advised not to unnecessarily tinker with the pairing of Dembele and Paulinho either. It is too important to Spurs' good form right now.