Inside Lane: Does Mousa Dembele still have a role in Tottenham’s future?
Tottenham blogger Dan Kilpatrick discusses how Mauricio Pochettino might be able to get the best out of the enigmatic Belgian midfielder, Mousa Dembele.
As attention turns to the summer transfer window, there’s one fringe player above all I want Spurs to keep: Mousa Dembele.
Largely, it’s for selfish reasons. Fit and fired-up, there’s no Spurs player I enjoy watching more than Dembele. His ability to glide past opponents or beat a man with the drop of a shoulder is perhaps unrivalled and he’s potentially a dangerous weapon for Tottenham. Potentially…
It’s odd to talk about potential in a 27-year-old approaching the end of his fifth season in the Premier League, but undoubtedly Dembele should be better and do better. If Mauricio Pochettino can harness his talent, I think he could yet be an important player for Spurs but there are two problems the boss must solve.
The first is Dembele’s lack of a final ball. For all his elegance, strength and majestic dribbling, Dembele has no end product. He’s the anti-Nacer Chadli. Dembele’s league record for Tottenham stands at three goals and five assists in 81 games.
Interestingly, the same accusation was levelled at his predecessor Luka Modric but the Croatian saw attacks before they happened. He assisted the assister.
Dembele, however, plays with instinct rather than Modric’s intuition and his instinct is always, without fail, a safe backwards or sideways pass, regardless of his progress on the pitch.
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Dembele’s best performance of the season came in the victory over Arsenal but he was guilty of two moments, one in each half, that summed him up - surging runs forward, followed by a check and a sideways pass. Arsenal regrouped.
The second issue is his lack of a fixed position. Given problem number one, it would seem logical to keep the Belgian as far away from the opponents’ goal as possible and utilise his skill and strength in a deep-lying playmaker role.
Dembele impressed in this position under Andre Villas-Boas but lost his way after Sandro’s injury in January 2013.
Pochettino has been reluctant to play Dembele in the ‘double-pivot’, probably because he takes too many touches, has a limited range of passing and is slow at moving the ball forward - and Pochettino, like Tim Sherwood, has experimented with some success at using Dembele in an attacking role.
There’s logic here too: dribbling past opponents in the centre circle is less effective than doing so on the edge of the box, and Dembele impressed in a mini-spell, flourishing against Arsenal and Liverpool, before he was unceremoniously dropped following an error against West Ham.
There’s reason to think he’s been hard done by, particularly given Christian Eriksen’s poor form, but that Pochettino might have already found a solution to problem number two.
Spurs are short of attacking options and Dembele, a good presser, could thrive in the ‘three’ of Pochettino’s preferred 4-2-3-1 system, particularly alongside Eriksen, Chadli and Harry Kane - three players in double figures for league goals this season, whose contributions would counter problem number one.
While Dembele has a decent chance of surviving the summer cull, time is running out for the Belgian, particularly with Tom Carroll, Dele Alli and Alex Pritchard due to further bloat Pochettino’s midfield.
No-one has problems describing those three as full of potential but Dembele arguably has just as much talent waiting to be unlocked.
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