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The Importance of Moussa Dembélé

Thursday 15th November 2012
In this week's edition of Two Points Lost, Lucas Howe looks at Spurs' new star-man: Moussa Dembélé.

Having arrived at Fulham from AZ Alkmaar in 2010, Moussa Dembélé's performances have earned many rave-reviews. This summer the Belgian midfielder was reportedly being observed by some of the world's biggest football clubs –including Manchester United and Real Madrid – and it seemed a matter of time before he left Craven Cottage for bigger things. He chose a move to London rivals Tottenham Hotspur, and has been seen by many as the player brought in to replace Tottenham's former midfield maestro Luka Modric.

The Antwerp-born playmaker has been in good form in his first few performances for the North London outfit. But, because of his nonchalant playing style, has been overshadowed by the more eye-catching performances of Gareth Bale, Jermain Defoe and, compatriot and fellow Spurs new-boy, Jan Vertonghen. Since suffering a hip injury whilst on international duty, the void left by Dembélé has been clear to see.

Under Harry Redknapp, Tottenham's style was all about quick counterattacking football. To do this, Redknapp paired a quick and agile creative midfielder (usually Luka Modric, or Rafael Van der Vaart) with a midfield commander who would sit back and douse any oncoming threat (a la Scott Parker or Sandro Raniere).

Redknapp's replacement, André Villas-Boas, has chosen instead to deputise Tom Huddlestone in a quarterback-role: sitting back and spraying passes forward. However, Huddlestone's lack of agility has caused Tottenham's attacks to be far slower. The former Derby man doesn't have the sheer dynamism of Dembélé, so cannot begin a counter through an attacking run with the ball. Gylfi Sigurðsson and Clint Dempsey could be closer to a like-for-like replacement in the agile playmaker role. The two new signings have hugely disappointed for Spurs this campaign, however. The Icelandic the more so, and the more appropriate to play as a playmaker – Dempsey is more of an attacker.

Despite Spurs having a decent run without Dembélé, matches against Chelsea and Man City have really highlighted the Belgian's importance to Tottenham. In these games, against two of the best midfields in the country, Tottenham's strong and mostly defensive midfield pairing of Sandro and Tom Huddlestone have been out-done. The pair has been dominated, and Spurs as a whole have struggled to carve many decent openings without the creativity of Dembélé.

Against weaker teams, the midfield solidity that Spurs possess can grind out results (probably why we've seen no real thumpings from the North London outfit this campaign), but as soon as this lack of agility faces up against strength and agility (Ramires, Yaya etc) they are totally exposed. The fact that Dembélé can chip in defensively whilst going backwards is also an invaluable trait, and is probably why the likes of Sigurðsson and Dempsey won't work in the centre of the park.

The balanced midfield pairing of one big man and one diminutive battling playmaker works wonders for Spurs – this is how they've gained their relative success over the past few seasons. Without Dembélé, they need a whole need approach. An approach that is far less successful.

Versus Arsenal's usual midfield trio of Cazorla, Arteta and Wilshere, Spurs need the balance of pace and power, and also need the creative outlet. Dembélé, if fit, will be a very important player for Spurs this weekend. The Belgian midfielder could also be the key to Tottenham's success this season on the whole, so keeping him fit should be a priority. With him, they've looked like the Tottenham of the Harry Redknapp era; without him, more like the Tottenham of the George Graham era.

 
Lucas Howe
Lucas is a recent graduate from the University of Leeds and aspiring football writer. He considers himself to have a great footballing-brain after leading Oldham Athletic to back-to-back invincible Premier League titles on FM2011. A huge Spurs fan, he thinks pragmatically when discussing his beloved team – trying not to be swayed by his heart. Lucas claims to have been the source that suggested Ali Dia to Graham Souness, although this cannot be confirmed. Follow Lucas on Twitter @lucas_howe

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