Tactical Analysis: Why has Mousa Dembele fallen out of favour at Spurs?

During the international break various newspapers have been linking Mousa Dembele with a move away from White Hart Lane. The Spurs midfielder is allegedly surplus to requirements under new manager Mauricio Pochettino. Dembele’s stock has fallen considerably since a brilliant debut season where he made 32 appearances for the club. Last season the club signed a host of midfielders but he still started 22 games. This year however he’s appeared seven times, starting just twice. Youngsters such as Ryan Mason are now more in favour than the Belgian. So where did it all go wrong?

Dembele thrived at the base of the midfield when AVB was initially in charge. He was very dynamic on the ball and off of it. He’d often win possession for the side and then charge forward. That being said he didn’t score many goals, nor was he a very creative presence from deep. He has only managed four assists in 59 appearances for the club in the Premier League and also managed just five goals. This isn’t a very good return for a midfielder. This is also at a time when Spurs haven’t ever replaced the creative presence of Luka Modric in their midfield. Dembele is simply nothing like him. He is good on the ball but he isn’t adventurous, he won’t thread a killer through ball in behind or take a risk. With a lack of goals from midfield this has lessened his importance as Spurs try to rectify this creative problem, as other options might be deemed better in this regard.

Jake Meador of The Inside Channel (if you haven’t signed up to his news letter you really should) largely puts his malaise down to tactics.

”He situation he had in his first season was ideal. All he needed to do was run around a bunch, break up play, and run at the defense. He didn’t need to create a ton with his passing ability, he didn’t need to score a lot of goals, he didn’t need to be the midfield general. What’s so tricky with him is that he has one or two things he does *incredibly* well, but he has lots of other things where he’s just mediocre. And there aren’t many systems in the world where a midfield can be a great dribbler, capable defender, and extremely limited as a passer or goal scorer and look good. AVB’s system that first season was one of them, but I’m not sure there are that many.” 

With a new manager and a slightly altered system his importance has decreased drastically and his positive attributes are being utilized far less than they once were as he is less accommodated now. His decline is not dissimilar to Ramires’ at Chelsea. Ramires though is capable of playing wide right, which is where he is given most of his appearances now, rather than as a midfielder in a two. Both players are probably better in a midfield three, which is less utilized in an era of the 4-2-3-1, with most managers preferring a midfield two at the base. In this regard you’d want one to be a very good defensive player and the other a very good creator. As Jake says, Dembele is neither. Therein lies the problem. If he moves to a side who can play a three in the middle he’ll do really well but with youngsters coming up at Spurs his time is now unfortunately up.

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