Analysing Mousa Dembele's return to Premier League in Tottenham's victory over Sunderland
Tottenham Hotspur have had a good start to the season and will be relieved to get the three points against Sunderland, despite the tight scoreline. They suffered a few injuries, including one to Harry Kane, which is a huge blow. Mousa Dembele suffered a knock in what was his return to Premier League action, but it was only minor and Mauricio Pochettino has already stated that he will be fine to play in the next match. The Belgian has been missed in the Spurs midfield and he gave an assured display on Sunday.
The 29-year-old is a complete midfielder, who was pivotal in the transition phase for Tottenham last season. Dembele has the ability to break up the play, before distributing it effectively to put his side on the front foot. He can also carry the ball powerfully, moving his side higher on the pitch. Although Victor Wanyama and Eric Dier have been doing a good job in the midfield for Tottenham, neither are as well rounded as Dembele. For that reason, the former Fulham midfielder is irreplaceable in the Tottenham starting eleven and it was important for them that he returned in good form.
On Sunday, he was played next to Victor Wanyama, therefore the emphasis was on him to get the ball to the attackers in transition, rather than retrieve the ball in midfield areas. He had the freedom to get into more attacking positions and he showed that he can thrive in such a role. His versatility is one of the reasons why Pochettino is such a huge fan.
He was reliable in possession and finished the match with a passing completion of 95%. Tottenham’s number 19 completed 73 of his 77 passes, which highlights how good he is with the ball at his feet. No player on the pitch had a better pass completion than Dembele and that will have been encouraging for Tottenham fans. In the final third, he was hugely influential, making three key passes in the match. During their opening four matches, the transition phase wasn’t as good as it was last season and the return of Dembele should resolve that.
Pochettino opted not to use Christian Eriksen in this match, which put more of the creative responsibility on Dembele. He is one of the few players in the squad with the intelligence to cut teams open regularly and he did so against Sunderland. It will be interesting to see which role Dembele is utilised in this season, but this performance showed that he should be given the license to influence games in the final third.
One of the strengths of Dembele’s game is his ability to make surging runs with the ball, creating space to launch attacks. He completed three of his four dribbles against Sunderland, all of which moved his side into a promising position. In the Premier League, it is invaluable to have a player that can carry the ball for long distances in midfield and even from this performance, it is clear that Tottenham are much better with Dembele in their starting eleven.
It wasn’t the greatest of matches for Tottenham, given the tight scoreline and the injuries suffered. However they will be relieved that Dembele is now available again and looks to be every inch as good as he was last season. He was one of best players for Spurs during their excellent 2015/16 campaign and will be crucial again this season. Pochettino has some decisions to make regarding his best team, but it is clear that the Belgium international has to be in it.