With a star-studded squad assembled at great expense over the summer, it is only natural that some Tottenham players will be frustrated by a lack of first-team football.
One such player at the moment is Mousa Dembélé, who has openly admitted that he would like more time on the White Hart Lane pitch in upcoming games.
The Belgium international has only started two of the last five games for André Villas-Boas’ men, and was removed after a distinctly ordinary first-half performance against Newcastle last time out.
The media have been quick to jump on Dembélé’s comments as an indicator that the former Fulham man wants to leave north London, with suitors being touted on a daily basis.
With a frantic December fixture list coming up for Villas-Boas’ men, what role will the Belgian play in the starting XI in the near future?
Dembélé is a technically gifted midfielder, potentially one of the most able at Tottenham’s disposal. His ability on the ball is excellent, and he has the grace and skill to beat opponents almost seamlessly at times. Add to this a solid work-rate, ability to shoot from distance and competent range of passing and it is clear to see that the Belgian is more than good enough to step out for Spurs.
However, the problem over the last while has been Dembélé’s decision making, especially in his own half. The former Fulham man looks to beat opponents when he gets the ball, but has been found out when trying to do this in the wrong half of the pitch.
Especially against Newcastle in Spurs’ last game, Dembélé was guilty of losing the ball in his own half, overplaying in dangerous situations and passing to team-mates under pressure. When Sandro came on, the Brazilian looked to move the ball quickly when in possession and this sped up Tottenham’s collective attacking game.
The problem for Dembélé currently is that he has no natural position in Villas-Boas’ 4-2-3-1 system, with the Belgian neither a designated midfield enforcer nor a number ten. Sandro and box-to-box component Paulinho seem like the most natural players in the centre of the park, with Étienne Capoue also returning from injury to offer a dynamic alternative.
For Spurs to accommodate Dembélé, a slight tactical shift to a three-man central midfield may well be needed, with the Brazilian duo sitting in front of the back four and the Belgian slightly ahead of them. With Christian Eriksen’s injury while on international duty, this option is open to Villas-Boas.
Especially in tough away games, like the upcoming one at the Etihad Stadium, playing this formation makes Spurs more compact. Dembélé will help out defensively, but positioned higher up the pitch can also be allocated more of a free reign to do what he does best with the ball at his feet.
In the long run, Dembélé is certainly a talented player that can be important to Tottenham, but must be more disciplined in his own half. Villas-Boas has yet to fine-tune his midfield this term and tweaking his system slightly to get the most out of the mercurial Dembélé may well be necessary.