Due to injuries, we’ve only seen Moussa Dembele and Paulinho together for 62 minutes in our midfield under Tim Sherwood.
With the pair now both back to full fitness, the coach may well have the most appropriate duo to get the most out of his 4-4-2 system. Sherwood and his staff have made their feelings on holding midfielders well known, preferring two box-to-box types in the centre of the park.
Paulinho and Moussa Dembele provide us with this option, as both have great engines to get up and down the field, recover the ball, dribble and shoot.
One sits, one goes
From Ferdinand’s comments, key to the new coach’s system is his liking for “players to understand that if one goes forward, the other one tucks in for them.”
In recent weeks we’ve not really had that with the combination of Moussa Dembele and Nabil Bentaleb. Whilst the Belgian has got himself forward more, the French teenager has played much deeper as a passing hub. This has meant that the attacking impetus came from just one player and hasn’t made the pairing a true midfield pivot.
In Spurs 3 Stoke 0 at the Lane we got to see the pair of Dembele and Paulinho briefly together in Sherwood’s system. This gave us a taste of what we could expect with a genuine rotating combination in midfield.
Both players were available to take possession of the ball in their own half, but also moved up in to the final third, with Paulinho getting in to the box. Dembele was frequently the more defensively minded player in the pairing, taking the ball more often from his centre backs.
However, this didn’t stop Paulinho also picking the ball up in our half of the field as the two switched positions. Just as he did here, taking the ball from Michael Dawson and shifting it to Soldado, whose cross found Adebayor in the move to win a penalty for our opening goal.
Dembele was still the most dominant of the pair in his own half, but that didn’t slow him down from getting up in to the final third as he supported the attack.
Both players did this through their movement, but also their dribbling. The pair are equally adept with the ball at their feet, using their big frames to shield it as they drive past the opposition.
Paulinho was naturally much more aggressive in the opponents half, but that didn’t stop Dembele getting forward too. The Belgian does like to get in to the final third and although it arrived just moments after Paulinho had limped off, his goal was reward for his bustling work.
But it wasn’t just going forward where both Paulinho and Moussa Dembele provided a one-two punch. Both players were able to regain the ball as Sherwood used them to try and pen Stoke in.
This saw Paulinho pushed up higher behind the striking duo of Soldado and Adebayor, as Moussa Dembele looked to take the ball off anything that got past them.
Although Dembele is the better and more natural defensive player, that doesn’t mean that Paulinho can’t win the ball back too. The Brazilian also was able to regain possession as the pair often covered for each other.
Return of Dembele and Paulinho to get most out of midfield?
We’ve only had a brief glimpse of the pair in a midfield four, which seems to be Tim Sherwood’s preferred system. This is a structure that is very similar to the one operated by Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City.
From what we’ve seen against Stoke, Moussa Dembele and Paulinho would be Sherwood’s ideal pair if he were to go this way with two box-to-box players. Both can get forward through their athleticism and dribbling. Each of them can also cover for the other with their ability to regain possession.
Moussa Dembele is the more defensively minded of the two, but the pair does provide more of a natural pivot than what we’ve seen so far. The only problem for Tim Sherwood would be what does he now do with Nabil Bentaleb?