Midfielder can’t play every game anymore
Tottenham Hotspur had made their best-ever start to a Premier League campaign prior to Monday’s 1-0 defeat to Manchester City.
They’re still 8/11 to secure a top-four finish, but it was another game this season where Mousa Dembele struggled to impose himself in midfield.
The Belgium international has been a superb player for Spurs with his blend of power and finesse. But we’ve taken a look at whether the North London club need to be thinking about a long-term replacement for the 31-year-old.
Injuries taking their toll?
Dembele has struggled with ankle injuries during his time at Tottenham. And there was plenty of talk of him leaving White Hart Lane towards the end of last season. Media reports suggested he was tempted by a move to China, as the physicality of the Premier League was increasingly hard on his body.
He didn’t leave in the end, but he can no longer play every game as a result of his fitness issues. He’s only played the full 90 minutes three times so far this term.
If Pochettino can’t count on Dembele to be fit, it’s hard to make him a key member of the team.
Dembele’s ability to wriggle out of tight spaces and carry the ball upfield has been a key feature of the team’s play under Mauricio Pochettino.
Last season he completed 3.96 take ons per 90 minutes in league action – the fifth-most of any player in the top flight. That’s dropped down to just 1.02 take ons per 90 minutes this term.
He’s not as precise with his passing either. His accuracy has fallen from 92.2% last year to 89.5% this time around.
If he was attempting more ambitious passes, you’d expect those numbers to drop. But he’s not created a single chance yet this season. The midfield lynchpin created 0.93 chances per 90 minutes last time around.
Dembele still has his moments, but they’re becoming fewer between. One of the side-effects of that has been the impact on Eric Dier. He’s looked overwhelmed at times without Dembele at his imperious best alongside him.
Neither of them are particularly mobile, which can make it hard for Spurs to play the aggressive football that Pochettino demands.
But they could have the ideal man to come in already in Harry Winks. The playmaker is very tidy on the ball and he’s constantly on the move, looking to knit play together.
Dembele and Dier has been Pochettino’s preferred midfield partnership for most of his time at the club. But it now looks like it should be just one of them alongside Winks, depending on the opposition.
Winks knows the system already and has looked comfortable against the likes of Spain, Barcelona and Real Madrid. The homegrown talent looks ready to step up now.
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