[dropcap]H[/dropcap]aving embarked on a nine-game unbeaten run in the Premier League, Tottenham fans will have high hopes that their team are starting to show the form needed to finish in the top four this season.
Young stars such as Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Eric Dier have all captured the headlines in recent times, with Mauricio Pochettino putting an emphasis on young starlets to build a successful team for the future.
However, a player whose role continues to be a source of questioning at White Hart Lane is Mousa Dembélé.
Named by countryman Wesley Sonck as the most technically gifted player in a star-studded Belgium squad, the silky midfielder can dazzle and infuriate in equal measures.
Signed from Fulham back in 2012, Dembélé has displayed real poise on the ball and the unique ability of beating opponents with his close control and trickery during his time in North London – but not on a consistent enough basis to be a driving force for Tottenham.
Over recent years, the 28-year-old has been in and out of the Spurs starting XI with regularity, which has prevented him from building any momentum or getting a string of games where he can influence affairs.
Another key issue is the fact that Dembélé’s versatility and footballing intelligence has led to him being utilised in various different positions and as such he has become a player to fill a gap in the team rather than an automatic starter in a certain position.
A central midfielder by trade, the Belgian has also been deployed on one of the flanks and in the number ten role behind Harry Kane over recent times.
Since the sale of Luka Modrić, Tottenham have lacked a player of a similar style; someone to orchestrate attacks from deep with an expansive range of passing.
There is no doubting that Dembélé could well be the ideal proponent, as displayed in his man-of-the-match performance in the role against Liverpool last weekend, but a few obstacles mean he is unlikely to be used in this position consistently in 2015-16.
Firstly, Eric Dier and Dele Alli have forged a burgeoning partnership in the boiler room in recent weeks, with this enviable blend of brawn and energy looking like a combination that works – even before Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb are considered for a starting place.
The Belgian loves taking on opponents with the ball at his feet, which is a desirable asset – but only when done in the right areas of the pitch.
The former Fulham man has been guilty of overplaying in dangerous areas, which has seen him dispossessed and Spurs put under unnecessary defensive pressure as a result.
This was one of the reasons that Pochettino took Dembélé out of his team last season and as such it looks like his time in the boiler room is set to be limited.
With Dier returning from suspension against Bournemouth on Sunday, Dembélé was pushed into a more advanced role behind Kane as the side’s creative central fulcrum.
He had been given a run of games in this role in the second half of last season and looked much more comfortable and assured.
That said, when summer signing Son Heung-min returns from injury and is back in the first-team reckoning, it is likely that the South Korean will command the number ten role after a mightily impressive start to life in English football in this role.
Using Dembélé in a wide berth continues to be an option if necessary, but the 28-year-old lacks the speed and inclination to stay close to the touchline that other players offer.
Moving forward, regardless of the position he takes up, the Belgian needs to do two things to have more of a telling impact at White Hart Lane.
Dembélé has been blighted with injuries over time, with this preventing him from building confidence and momentum; Pochettino needs him to stay fit if the midfielder is to be a constant in the starting XI.
Secondly, the talented star simply does not score enough goals given the ability he possesses.
His strike against The Cherries yesterday was only his fourth Premier League goal in 91 Premier League outings for Spurs – a strike rate that needs to improve for Dembélé to live up to his potential.
With Spurs fighting on two fronts this season and desperate for success, Dembélé will have a key role to play.
However, this at-times infuriating figure needs to be more consistent if he is to be a quintessential member of the Tottenham team.
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