The Dembélé-Shaped Hole in Spurs’ Midfield
Mousa Dembélé left Spurs and joined Guangzhou R&F in January 2019. The experienced Belgian midfield maestro was such a key player in the Spurs midfield. Since his departure, the club have not been able to replicate what he brought to the club. They will need to address this, if that is even possible, in the next transfer window.
Indeed, he brought his own unique display of talent to the Premier League. He is strong, yet graceful on the ball, with the fantastic ability to ghost past players. Once in possession, he is so hard to dispossess. Whilst many players such as Eden Hazard or Sergio Aguero might be lauded for being some of the best dribblers in the league, Dembélé was easily on par with them during his time at Spurs.
In his absence, Spurs have deployed the likes of Moussa Sissoko, Harry Winks, Victor Wanyama and Eric Dier. Sissoko has admittedly emulated Dembélé’s performances in some form; with his strength and new-found confidence on the ball. However, none of the players in Dembélé’s stead can perform his role individually, only as a collective amalgamation of their skills.
It may be a very useful alliteration, but Dembélé really does have a certain dynamism. He can fulfil both the attacking and defensive needs of the team. His strength is just as useful in battling against the tougher opponents in the division. Also, he does have some decent tackling and recovery skills. This makes him an all-purpose midfielder like no other; deployed further forward he could have been a much bigger attacking threat. However, Spurs chose to keep playing him deep.
There are few players with this kind of quality and with Dembélé ’s experience. Admittedly, this dynamism came at a price; his injury-prone nature. As a result, this would mean he would miss large chunks of the season. It was hard for Dembélé to find consistency; by moving in and out of the team this didn’t help.
Nevertheless, Dembélé- at his best was arguably one of Tottenham’s and even one of the Premier League’s best ever midfielders. This isn’t reflected at all in terms of goals and assists; although he did get a hand in some goals. Like many other talented players, for example, Luka Modric at Spurs, these kinds of statistics do not reflect what the players bring to the team. Modric and Dembélé are those kinds of players that dictate the play from deep. Their passes and contributions are from the beginning of a string of passes leading up to goals. Not every player gets to have world-breaking stats.
In the short term, Spurs will need all the quality they can get. They will face Manchester City three times in eleven days. Whilst Winks and Sissoko are talented individuals, they will suffer fatigue. Thus, just in numerical terms alone, Tottenham are down one midfielder by not bringing in a replacement for Dembélé in January. Oliver Skipp is perhaps the player to bolster the squad here. However, he is very young and still developing.
Having an in-form Dembélé would have made a big difference to the squad ahead of these important Premier League and Champions League fixtures. Now Spurs will have to cope without him. But, in the summer they really should invest in a replacement or alternative so that there is that all-important squad depth to call upon.