Despite having a key role in the successful Tottenham Hotspur side over the last couple of seasons, Mousa Dembele is – by a distance – one of Spurs’ oldest senior players, and while his experience has proven invaluable in helping to mentor youngsters such as Harry Winks, one cannot help but feel that the Belgian’s role in the current Spurs setup is going to be limited to one or two seasons maximum beyond this May. He’s frequently substituted at around 70 minutes for the aforementioned Winks, who has been an emerging star this
He’s frequently substituted at around 70 minutes for the aforementioned Winks, who has been an emerging star this season and has failed to dominate games in the same way he did last campaign so effectively. Whilst some of this must be attributed to the change in dominant formation – from a 4-2-3-1 where Spurs’ successes hinged on Dembele’s performances, to a 3-4-2-1 less dependent on any one player – the dip in form must be cause for concern for manager Mauricio Pochettino.
Last season, Dembele was the league’s best box-to-box midfielder, and by a fair distance too. In the 4-2-3-1, where his ability to pick the ball up from deep and use it to create space or find a pass were key to breaking sides down, he excelled. Pochettino even said back in August that “Tottenham do not exist without Mousa Dembele”, after being held 1-1 against Liverpool.
However, the performances of Victor Wanyama have gone a long way to ensuring that the Spurs midfield does not rely on Dembele. Tall, powerful, and physically strong, the duo complement each other perfectly, with Dembele’s offensive guile adding to Wanyama’s immense defensive prowess. That Spurs are no longer so reliant on the Belgian must be a good thing, but with a midfield partner four years his junior in the Kenyan international, and eight years in Winks, it would surprise nobody to see Dembele forced out of the team should he get injured or if his performance levels are not maintained.
Nonetheless, Dembele remains a vital asset. The Belgian trio, of himself, the infallible Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen have looked nigh-on impassable at times this season, and Dembele is blessed with talents few other players in the world have. Perhaps his biggest shortcoming is a lack of goals, but with the abundance of attacking talent elsewhere in the team, this is minimised – especially from deep.
What stands out about Dembele’s performances is the number of successful take-ons he achieves from the centre of the park – between March and September 2016, he completed 31 – THIRTY-ONE – successive dribbles, a feat unmatched by any other player in the league. From defensive midfield, this is a ridiculous statistic – and it reveals just how well he’s able to protect the ball.
Possession-based buildup play is the Pochettino ideal in the offensive third, and Dembele fits the bill in this regard. Furthermore, 29 is by no means old, even in football terms, so there is theoretically no reason why he shouldn’t be able to maintain the high-energy press, for example, that is required of him in the current setup.
Naturally, the argument could be made that if Spurs were to receive a big-money bid – especially from a team outside England – that it would make sense to move him on; if current performances are anything to go by, it looks like Winks is ready to step up, so Spurs could afford to lose Dembele. With ridiculous amounts of money flying around in China, a big boost to the transfer kitty for Mauricio Pochettino’s side could allow the Argentine head coach to bring in some super-star names – especially if they finish in the top four for the second successive season.
The likes of Isco Alcarcon and Mateo Kovacic have already been linked with Spurs, by The Sun and Mirror, respectively, and a player like Dembele could well reach a fee of £60million in China – especially in a league where Hulk and Oscar reach similar fees. If such a bid came in, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see the club accept. After all, it makes sense to sell one player to bring in two younger – and possibly better – ones. However, with the undeniable importance of Dembele to the current side, it would have to be a huge bid to tempt Daniel Levy and Pochettino to sell one of their best players.
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