Mousa Dembele: Tottenham's graceful general
There are certain players who amble around the football pitch with grace and poise, almost as if they are the general of a battalion, overlooking the troops. They stride with an air of dominance, casting other players as inferior in stature and importance. Mousa Dembele is one such player.
In recent months, Dembele has come to the fore to challenge the crop of Europe's elite holding midfielders. The said crop includes the wise saint-like Busquets, the tireless Kante, the burly Casemiro, and many more. However, Dembele's unique style of play and his ability have put him within reaching distance of this upper echelon.
If one goes by solely his statistics, he fails to impress. He ranks 134th in tackles per game and 113th in interceptions per game in the Premier League. For a holding midfielder, that is pretty bad.
However, Dembele is no orthodox holding midfielder. In dribbles completed per game, Dembele ranks 20th with 2.1 (Eden Hazard is top with 4.8). All the players who dribble more are attackers, with the exception of Mario Lemina. In spite of dribbling so much, Dembele ranks 81st in the number of times dispossessed per game, which is a ridiculously low rank for a player who dribbles so much.
Also, Dembele attempts just 2.5 dribbles per game and completes 2.1 out of them, which gives him a staggering success rate. Comparing that to Hazard, who completes 4.8 out of 6 dribbles, Dembele is in some elite company. Out of all the midfielders who have attempted 40 or more dribbles this season in the Premier League, Dembele has by far the best success rate at 88 percent.
These stats tell that Dembele dribbles at a rate on par with the best wingers but loses possession very rarely. A handy quality in your holding midfielder, is it not?
Stats aside, Dembele's dribbling is a unique sight. The Belgian seems to glide past people in a trice, his feet seemingly levitating over the turf. His brute strength enables him to bully past opponents easily. The tall lanky frame hides a strong physique capable of muscling out anyone.
The ability to beat his man enables him to play incisive passes between the lines to the likes of Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli. Considering their ability and Kane in front of them, they are bound to wreak havoc. The said incisive passes are frequently played, as Dembele boasts the highest pass completion rate in the opposition half in the league.
Mind you, Dembele did not play in this position in his formative years. He played in a front three for Louis van Gaal at AZ Alkmaar in the 2008-09, scoring 10 goals. He made the move to the Premier League in 2010, joining Fulham.
It was at Craven Cottage where he made the transition into a deeper position under Martin Jol's tutelage. He grew into the midfield position at the club and eventually Spurs signed him in 2012.
Dembele's performance against Juventus in the Champions League this season was his first in the knockouts at this level. He could have made it much earlier if it were not for recurring injuries to his ankle. His ankle required surgery in 2017 and his future was in serious doubt. But he has returned to full fitness now owing to the aptitude of Tottenham's medical staff
However, Mauricio Pochettino is still cautious about his fitness. One thing the Argentine is not cautious about is singing Dembele's praises. He said recently, "For me I put him next to Ronaldinho, Maradona and Okocha. I was lucky to play with them. For me he's one of the greatest talents in the history of football." High praise indeed.
Dembele is finally getting the recognition he deserves in the heart of Tottenham's midfield. He is beginning to show his best and it could not have come at a better time for his team. Spurs are finally hitting their peak in the league and their torch is still shining in the Champions League. Much of it has been down to Dembele.