Mousa Dembele the destructive number 10

Mousa Dembele is excelling as a destructive number ten in Mauricio Pochettino’s quest to loosen up deep-lying opponents.

Mousa Dembele has drifted in and out of the team this season, as Mauricio Pochettino occasionally gave him a run out at the base of our midfield. The Belgian was in direct competition with Ryan Mason and with the youngster making such an impact, Dembele had to be content with a back-up role.

Now, all that has changed. With rumours that he was on his way out of the exit door, Dembele has had a new lease of life as a number ten. Christian Eriksen was filling the position, but teams stifling our narrow formation by packing the centre often crowded out the Dane. Dembele’s re-incarnation in a role he started out his career playing many years ago in Holland, has brought power and drive to the position to loosen opposition teams up.

Power presser

The first thing Mousa Dembele has brought to the role is his strength and ability to close opposition players down. This forces turnovers by either making them clear long downfield or to strip them of the ball as he shrugs them off it.

In our Capital One Cup semi-final against Sheffield United, he was instrumental in closing down from the front. Dembele’s bigger size and frame means that he is equal in stature to many centre backs than a traditional number ten. Here he forces a long clearance downfield as he closes quickly, leaving few options.


Mousa Dembele forces along clearance.

But he is also a serious threat to close and muscle anyone who delays off the ball. Just as he does here to start a break that ends with a Harry Kane shot.


Mousa Dembele out-muscles an opponent to create a turnover.

Dembele’s ability to regain the ball, that we’ve often seen when he has played deeper in the midfield, is much more destructive when deployed further up the pitch. It can catch the opposition off-guard, and then their formation off-balance, in order to start quick counters.

Dynamic dribbler

Mousa Dembele is renowned for his dribbling ability wherever he is on the park. The Belgian uses his sizeable frame and strength to role off opponents, gliding past them with what seems like effortless ease.

Deeper in the formation, this can see him move the ball out of danger. When deployed further up the field, Dembele can execute his dribble-drives with much more devastating effect.

We saw this against Sheffield United as the Belgian powered his way up the park here to feed Harry Kane in for a shot that went just past the post.


Mousa Dembele dribble-drives forward.

Against West Brom at the weekend, Dembele’s dribbles created our opening two goals. The first saw him blow by Claudio Yacob before being fouled to set up Christian Eriksen’s free kick.


Moousa Dembele bursts through the gap between Yacob and Morrison.

On our second goal, he drove past Saido Berahino to get in-behind the West Brom midfield once more.


Mousa Dembele dribbles through.

Before laying the ball off to Harry Kane to fire us in to a 2-0 lead with a wicked drive past Ben Foster at his near post.


Mousa Dembele lays the ball off to Harry Kane.

Layoff passer

This second goal against West Brom highlighted Mousa Dembele as a player perfectly.

He is a powerful driver with the ball, but isn’t the lock-picking passer that a traditional number ten is. However, he doesn’t need to be. When motoring past opponents, he draws other defenders towards him, which frees up team mates. His lay-offs to the open man can then be equally effective as any defence splitting through pass.

And that’s what Dembele as a destructive number ten does. His presence, and the fact that defences have to get up on him to stop his dribbles, allows others to drift in to the middle and flourish. Dembele sucks players towards him and then his layoffs move the ball to the open man before the defence can rotate back in to position. This allows players like Eriksen to move in to the middle unmarked, rather than having their starting position in the centre and operating in the initial congestion.

Mousa Dembele the destructive number 10

Having a power player rather than a typical lock-picking trequartista at the number ten position has really paid dividends for Mauricio Pochettino so far.

Having experimented with a few tactics, including the long ball game we saw in the 1st leg with Sheffield United, this may well be his answer to unlocking teams that sit deep.

The book on how to play us has traditionally read that you sit off, play on the counter and congest the centre. Having a physically strong, dribble and dish power player operating further up the field may well be his answer to solving this conundrum.

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9 Responses to Mousa Dembele the destructive number 10

  1. Sean Daniel 5th February 2015 at 5:22 pm #

    Completely agree, especially with Ars’nal next given their back 4 he would create lots of opportunities for free kicks and switching …using Soldado and Kane with Dembele and Chadli in the middle and only one holding midfielder also increases attacking options

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 5th February 2015 at 6:37 pm #

      Agree there would be opportunities for free kicks, especiialy if the Goons play a counter game like they did at the Lane last season. Curious to know how you would fit Soldado and Kane in with Chadli and Dembele plus a holding midfielder?

  2. Calum 5th February 2015 at 6:10 pm #

    That formation might be a bit too brave and leave us open to Woolwich’s counterattack Sean.
    Funny, even though Eriksen is in great form I was imagining a 3 of Chadli Dembele Lamela
    with Kane up front. I just think there’s more pace, work and goal threat from open play. Bring on CE in the second half when they get tired and start giving away free kicks around the box.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 5th February 2015 at 6:39 pm #

      We’d miss Eriksen’s now traditional first half free kick if he was on the bench ;)

  3. Bretto 5th February 2015 at 7:30 pm #

    Great article. MP is so different to the previous “down to our bare bones” Redknapp. Actually willing to experiment to find solutions not try and buy one. Or even Tactics Tim who still would not have identified any probem (because it’s the players fault!).

    I was thinking a little differentlt to you Calum. I would prefer Chadli on bench at start of match and come on in second half when the game opens up. He is our most effective counter-attacker so it would make sense (at least to me) to start with Eriksen, Moose & Lamela first with either Moose or Lamela coming off.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 5th February 2015 at 7:37 pm #

      Thanks for reading Bretto. Pochettino does seem to try and use the players at his disposal and also give the youngsters a chance, which is refreshing. I like the idea of Chadli coming on later in the match, you are right to say he’s our most effective counter attacker. It would be good if we were a couple of goals up and the Goons were chasing the game and so he’d have space to run in to.

  4. calum 5th February 2015 at 8:21 pm #

    I can see the wisdom in that too Bretto.
    I think I was going on the impression Eriksen gives of drifting in and out of games. That might be a mistaken impression though. I read somewhere that he covers a lot of ground, something like a mile more than anyone else on the pitch during the course of a game. Maybe his contribution sometimes goes unnoticed.

  5. Zaph 5th February 2015 at 8:22 pm #

    I’m probably going to rile most of you, but although a Spurs fan for decades, I can’t dislike Arsenal as much as I ought to. A team with so much flair and dare I say it playing what was the ‘Tottenham way’ shouldn’t be villified.

    Arsenal led the division at new year last season before being crippled by injuries… and the same messed them up at the start of this season. Now with almost a complete squad I suspect they may have the best record from here until the end of season, and perhaps catch City.

    Or maybe not, is their defence as bad as is said?

    I was totally impressed with MP tactics verses Chelsea, and wait to see what he can produce in this game.

    The Dembele switch is key, he also seems to be trying to get Paulinho to do similar things – recall how earlier in the season it was these two that were giving up possession in our half to leave our defence exposed.

    Trevor Francis remains dissapponted with Demeble saying that “with his talent, he should be one of the best players in the world, scoring regularly”… maybe Poch can get him there…

    • Reinert 6th February 2015 at 1:48 am #

      I hear you, Zaph!

      Great read, Mark.