Moussa Dembele arrives at White Hart Lane in a £15m move to Spurs, marking the first investment of the Luka Modric transfer money.
The Belgian has been putting in some impressive performances for Fulham over the past two seasons, forming a steady partnership with Mahamadou Diarra.
At 185cms Dembele is just a bit bigger than the departed Modric and naturally his game differs. So, what can we expect from Moussa Dembele at Spurs?
Moussa Dembele movement
Luka Modric was our deep lying playmaker or ‘Regista’ and he did a great job, picking the ball up from the keeper and defenders to initiate attacks.
Moussa Dembele is more of a physical driving presence, but he too takes the ball from the defence and delivers it to the more attacking players.
If we look at his two games in the Premier League so far this season, we can see how Dembele is the hub for taking the ball from the back and moving it forward.
Against Norwich he works right from the edge of his area, taking the ball from the goalkeeper and his back four. He receives the bulk of his passes in and around the centre circle, but the majority are in his own half.
Fulham attacked 38% of the time down the left, 38% in the centre and just 24% to the right in this game. He therefore gets involved with John Arne-Riise and Alex Kacaniklic out on this left flank looking to build play.
His man-of-the-match display against Man Utd at the weekend also highlights his pitch coverage. Again, he receives passes from the defenders, the majority of which are in and around the centre circle. He also moves out to the left with Fulham going 45% of the time down this flank, compared to just 19% down the right.
Spurs have a much more balanced attack than Fulham through the first two Premier League games this season. We’ve launched our forays forward 33% to the left and 38% to the right, with the remaining 29% down the middle. So expect to see Moussa Dembele working out to both sides of the formation at the Lane.
Moussa Dembele passing
When looking at why Tom Huddlestone wasn’t a good fit for the Luka Modric role on the team, the reason was his length of passing. Huddlestone prefers to ping long passes around the field, whereas Andre Villas-Boas requires this player to make shorter passes to move the ball. In Moussa Dembele he has a player that provides just that.
Against Norwich, Moussa Dembele played 73 passes, all but one of these were classified as short i.e. under 20 yards by Opta. With Fulham attacking the left and central channels for 76% of their possessions, we can see how he moves the ball out to the flank, and then when he is out on the left, back to the centre.
In the match with Man Utd, he has less of the ball, but he is again trying to work the ball left with short passing. Of his 53 passes played on the day, 52 were classified as short and they almost radiate out from the centre circle to move the ball to the left side of the formation.
Moussa Dembele gets the ball to the man in the hole
A deeper lying playmaker has the job of getting the ball forward to the more attack minded players.
Fulham’s formation can look like a 4-2-3-1 but also resembles a 4-4-1-1 at times so far this season. Whatever their formation though, Bryan Ruiz has always played in the hole off of central striker Mladen Petric.
Moussa Dembele in both matches so far has made Bryan Ruiz his primary target for shifting the ball to. Against Norwich he gives the ball to Ruiz on 16 occasions (22% of his total passing), getting it forward to him when he is deep, but also laying it off to Ruiz if he gets ahead of him.
Against Man Utd, the Costa Rican playing in the hole off of Petric is also his main target, as Dembele gives him 14 of his 53 passes (26%) this time.
Gylfi Sigurdsson is the man Andre Villas-Boas has brought in to play in the advanced midfield role. Expect to see Moussa Dembele looking to get the ball to him at every opportunity.
Moussa Dembele the linkman
This really comes with the territory of taking the ball from the defenders and getting it to the attacking players, but we have seriously been lacking this so far this season.
Sandro and Jake Livermore, while bringing a more defensive side to their game, have failed to provide a link to the attackers. We saw this from their positions in the 2-1 loss to Newcastle where there was a big gap in their average positions and those of the attacking players.
Moussa Dembele, whether playing as part of a double pivot in a 4-2-3-1, or in a 4-3-3 will fill this gap. If we look at Fulham’s match with Norwich, we can see how Dembele’s average position is ahead of the more defensive Diarra (19) and just off of Bryan Ruiz (11) who he is trying to get the ball to.
Spurs were lacking this linkman to fill the gap with the departure of Luka Modric. Moussa Dembele will fill this void.
Moussa Dembele dribbling
Moussa Dembele is also able to provide a drive and thrust from the middle of the park. Among all Premier League players last season, only seven of them attempted more dribbles than Dembele, with only two successfully completing more (Moses, Hoilett).
If we needed a reminder of his drive from midfield, then Fulham’s match with Man Utd at the weekend showed us just that, as he completed 9 of 11 dribble attempts.
This will bring something slightly different to the Spurs midfield than the one with Luka Modric in it. Dembele attempted a dribble every 23 minutes on pitch last season, compared to the Croatian’s every 33 minutes.
Expect a bit more attacking thrust coming from deeper with Dembele in the line-up.
Moussa Dembele defensively
Moussa Dembele not only brings an attacking drive to the Lane, he also brings a defensive side as well. He is a different type of defensive player to Luka Modric, in that he can win a lot more aerial battles due to his height, but he also wins the ball on the ground differently as well.
Due to his smaller stature, Luka Modric was very much an interceptor of the ball. Last season, the Croatian made just 40 ground tackles, but 81 interceptions. On the other hand, Moussa Dembele at Fulham made 85 ground tackles, but only 33 interceptions.
Although these stats are with different teams, the marked contrast between the tough tackler and the play-reading interceptor will mean a more physical midfield this season.
Moussa Dembele made 7 of his 8 tackles against Man Utd at the weekend, highlighting his coverage of the pitch, as he made challenges right across the field. By contrast, he only made one interception in the game.
Expect to see a more physical midfield this season, with increased bookings as a result of more ground challenges and AVB’s high line. Moussa Dembele should respond better to this than Luka Modric would have, with his more physical ground tackling nature and better speed across the turf.
What can we expect from Moussa Dembele?
We’re going to see a good player whether Andre Villas-Boas plays a 4-2-3-1 or switches to his preferred 4-3-3.
In both formations, Moussa Dembele will have the luxury of a more defensive player alongside him in Sandro or Scott Parker.
This will allow him to get more involved and build the play with short passing through to the attacking players. It also affords him the ability to use his dribbling skills to drive attacks from deep.
When we loose the ball, he will be a valuable source in pressing the opposition with his speed and ground tackling helping out defensively.
Belgium is developing a golden generation of footballers at the minute and having snapped up Jan Vertonghen, capturing Moussa Dembele is a major coup.