Dembele: Spurs’ frustration at draw with Chelsea is a sign of progress
Mousa Dembele says Tottenham’s frustration after Sunday’s stalemate with reigning champions Chelsea shows how far they have come under Mauricio Pochettino.
Spurs had the opportunity to move 13 points clear of Jose Mourinho’s Blues but were unable to find a way past their visitors, who only registered one shot on target, while the Lilywhites were limited to four of their own in a goalless draw.
Pochettino suggested after the game that Chelsea played like “a small team” at White Hart Lane – and Dembele feels Tottenham’s disappointment with the result is a sign of their improvement.
“Yes exactly, and that’s a positive thing,” he said. “Before, maybe we might have been happy to draw but we have a certain confidence and we now know we could win.
“We hoped to win the game of course, it was a big moment to beat them. But in the end this is still Chelsea - you have to have some respect for them. Maybe a draw was a good result.
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“Everybody can see the way we are playing and our mentality is different, I think everybody can agree with that. I don’t want to say we’re more ‘men’, but we’re more confident, we’re a group and that’s something we’ve worked on for a long time so we’re happy with that.
“There’s a positive vibe in the group and the next game against West Bromwich [on Saturday], it’s very important to continue that good vibe.”
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Tottenham’s hopes of beating Chelsea were undermined by their 5,000-mile round trip to Azerbaijan for Thursday’s Europa League group game against FK Qarabag.
They returned home at 5am on Friday morning ahead of Sunday’s midday kick-off, and Dembele – who missed the trip to get some rest due to an ankle problem - said: “It was a long week but it’s difficult to say [how much that affected us]. At the end of the day we were still playing Chelsea and they are a good side.
“You will probably have to ask every player individually if they felt tired at the end. It wasn’t a negative day.”
Sunday’s draw extended Tottenham’s unbeaten run in the Premier League to 13 games, their longest sequence for 30 years - since 1985. And, while they remain outside the top four in fifth place, Pochettino’s side are only four points off the top. But Dembele is refusing to get carried away.
“Where can we finish? We see game by game,” he said. “I think we have the confidence to say we can win any game if we have the same mentality that we have now.
“Of course you want to end up first but I don’t try to think that far ahead. The next game is important and then after that every week is another challenge.”
Tottenham have reached the end of a difficult run of top-flight fixtures in November, which involved three successive London derbies against Arsenal, West Ham and Chelsea.
On paper December looks less taxing, with games against West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle, Southampton, Norwich and Watford – who are all in the bottom 11 places – and Dembele admits that schedule represents a different challenge.
“The focus for those kind of games are maybe more difficult than this one [against Chelsea],” he said. “Nobody has to have a speech for these kind of games [against the top teams].
“But I think that’s a thing we’ve learned this year – the ‘small’ teams, they’re all difficult and everybody knows anyone can win against anyone. We have a lot of respect for everyone but we know we have to win these games if we want to be high up in the league.”
To underline Dembele’s point, Spurs are now preparing to visit a West Brom side who earned a home win over Arsenal just nine days ago.
“Exactly, it’s like a warning for us,” he said. “I hope we’re not going to underestimate them but I have confidence that everybody’s going to be sharp.
“We have a big group with a lot of qualities so it’s difficult to slow down. Maybe in the past it was different and more people were sure of their spot, but at the moment anyone can play so that’s something I hope will make everyone focused, including myself.”
Dembele can be fairly sure of his own place in the starting line-up in the Midlands on Saturday. The 28-year-old found himself out of favour towards the end of last season and his future seemed uncertain during the summer, but he has enjoyed a real resurgence and is now a key figure, starting Spurs’ last six league games and impressing again against Chelsea.
“I always had a lot of confidence in myself,” he said. “Now I am happy that I’m playing and that the team is doing well.
“For me, I never doubted I would stay at the club. Of course people will speculate when you are not playing too much, but I’ve always felt this is my club and I just want to prove myself to the team, to the supporters and [show] everyone that I can play here and that I don’t want to run.
“I’m not the kind of player who wants to run, I just want to show myself and I feel I can do something here.”
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs