Many would be forgiven for thinking Mousa Dembele might have been on his way out of White Hart Lane last summer. The big Belgian had found himself displaced by the enigmatic Nabil Bentaleb, and the industrious Ryan Mason in the heart of the Spurs midfield. Entering the prime years of his career, Dembele had found himself on the side-lines, and a move away seemed likely, with Italian giants Napoli reportedly holding an interest.
Dembele stayed put however, and waited patiently for his chance to arrive this season. It did not come quickly, as the emergence of Eric Dier as a top level defensive midfielder and the outstanding rise of the prodigal Dele Alli, meant that Mousa once again found himself a few rungs down the pecking order. A suspension for Eric Dier in October however meant that Dembele was handed a chance to game back into the team against Liverpool.
And he hasn’t looked back since. Dembele was a force of nature. Driving from deep into the opposition half, shrugging opponents off him with alarming ease, and displaying a range of passing we hadn’t thought the Belgian capable of. In the 18 games since then Dembele has scored 3 goals, which is his best return already for a season in a Spurs shirt. He only managed 1 in 26 games last season. This can be attributed to a greater efficiency in front of goal. Last season Dembele only managed a shot accuracy of 33%. This year this has rose dramatically with Mousa being on target 73% of the time. Whilst he is yet to assist this year, Dembele has created 18 chances in the 18 games he’s played.
These numbers reflect a change in attitude for Dembele. In previous seasons he was content to hold the ball and move it sideways. Taking the safe option too often, Dembele was a source of frustration for many fans. Whilst clearly possessing the ability to affect games, Mousa was all too happy to play a comfortable game and take no risks. Under Pochettino however this malaise seems to have been stripped away, and underneath we’ve found the true Dembele. A hulking presence in the midfield, Dembele has been a one man wrecking machine. A Bulldozer with a Lamborghini engine, Mousa has grown into the player many thought he could be. A blend of brute strength and elegance, Dembele is now affecting games much more, and when he plays, 3 points invariably follow.
Already this season Dembele has more goals than previous season. He has also completed 11 more successful take-on’s already than he did in the while of the previous season. It’s not only his ability to carry the ball, but also his passing has seen a new-found positivity. Dembele has completed 701 passes this season achieving a pass accuracy of 90%. And of these 701 passes 62% have been forward.
This newfound desire to look forward instead of sideways or backwards has seen Dembele finally fulfil his potential. At 28, he’s arrived into his prime and has his best years ahead of him. The club have recognised this and rewarded the Belgian with a new 3-year contract, taking him to 2019. Dembele at his maximum is a one-man-midfield, and as this young squad grows with him, Dembele’s best years are ahead of him. And they could be some of Spurs’ best too.
By Josh Smith