Tottenham: Mousa Dembele Can Excel in Attacking Role Under Sherwood

James Barnes@@JBarnesyyFeatured ColumnistFebruary 4, 2014

Dembele's only goal this campaign came against Stoke in late December.
Dembele's only goal this campaign came against Stoke in late December.Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Mousa Dembele’s a joy to watch at times as he glides across the field with a physicality and elegance that few possess, so it’s a shame that Tottenham aren’t harnessing his talents effectively.

In light of Tim Sherwood’s recent remarks this looks set to change, with the Tottenham manager keen on Dembele adopting more advanced positions than he’s accustomed to (via

Mousa's a nightmare to play against because he can drop his shoulder and leave you on your backside. Opponents can't get the better of him physically either. He's such a strong man; he gets away from players; he's a real top talent.

We're trying to get him further forward to play in and around the penalty area because he has the capability of creating and perhaps scoring more goals. We're getting him into the areas to achieve that.

At present, Dembele largely operates in the middle third of the pitch dictating the tempo at which defence transitions into attack; it’s a role that sits counter to his lack of vision, as evidenced by the paucity of forward passes he executed against Swansea.

His indecisiveness in possession often stalls counter-attacks—affording the opposition time to pressure the ball and regroup—when a player with superior guile might've distributed to the flanks or threaded a slide-rule pass to an unmarked midfielder.

The Belgian’s no Luka Modric then, but that’s not to suggest he’s ill-equipped to function in Tottenham’s midfield, but rather that there’s definite scope for him to influences games in a bigger fashion.

Mousa Dembele shrugs of a Wayne Rooney challenge during Tottenham's 2-1 victory over Manchester United last month.
Mousa Dembele shrugs of a Wayne Rooney challenge during Tottenham's 2-1 victory over Manchester United last month.Michael Regan/Getty Images

Unquestionably, Dembele’s at his most destructive when he isolates defenders in proximity of the 18-yard box, forcing them to engage in one-on-one duels.

We witnessed a superb demonstration of this during the Sunderland game, which saw him ghost past Jack Colback on the left wing before delivering a cross that fortuitously found the back of the net through John O’Shea’s attempted clearance.

His redoubtable strength, agility and trickery (watching Dembele’s mastery of the Ronaldo chop is endlessly gratifying) causes all sorts of problems—indeed, an overlooked feature of the Manchester City game was the staggering ease with which Dembele eluded his midfield counterpart Yaya Toure as he completed four take-ons in the first half—but he’s seldom given free rein to express himself.

This once again underlines the importance of Sandro to this Tottenham outfit. The industrious Brazilian is the perfect foil to Dembele, granting him the license to maraud forward at greater frequency without fear of vacating the midfield. As such, you’d seriously question the Tottenham coaching staff’s appraisal of holding midfielders, and their criminal disregard for Etienne Capoue’s qualities.

To this writer, the midfield partnership of Dembele and Nabil Bentaleb is equally as dysfunctional as the Dembele/Paulinho duo. With two predominantly offensive players anchoring the midfield, confusion arises over their individual duties: who drops deep and who presses on the counter, and who tracks the run of the opposition’s No. 10? David Silva exploited this weakness with alarming regularity.

Going forward, a midfield three of Dembele-Paulinho-Capoue/Sandro or two of Dembele/Paulinho-Capoue/Sandro strikes the best balance between defensive fortitude and attacking flair (lest we forget, the Sandro/Parker-Modric pairings were some of the most productive in recent years) and should facilitate Sherwood's desire to adapt Mousa's game.

Dembele's a player who shows flashes of brilliance which allude to something more. Perhaps he's already reached his peak, or maybe with a little direction and a renewed focus he could develop into something a bit special.