Sandro, Moussa Dembele and the evolution of the Spurs midfield

Andre Villas-Boas has made plenty of changes during his time in charge at Spurs. He has brought in new faces, given youth a chance, whilst also bringing other players through in to the first team. Nowhere is that more prevalent than in the centre of the park. Luka Modric and Scott Parker were the crux of our side last season, but the sale of the former and injury to the latter, has seen a new partnership form in Sandro and Moussa Dembele.

In contrast to the 67kgs and 175cms of Modric and the 66kgs and 170cms of Scott Parker, the new kids on the block are bigger, more physical specimens.

Sandro weighs in at 75kgs and 187cms with Moussa Dembele at 82kgs and 185cms. But is size the only difference the new wave brings to the centre of our midfield?

Scott Parker and Luka Modric

Scott Parker and Luka Modric operated in very defined roles for Spurs last season. The former was a ball winner and terrier in the middle of the park in our 4-4-1-1 formation.

No one won the ball more than Scott Parker, his 107 tackles was the most on the team, more than any defender and twice as many as Luka Modric. He also won play back through intercepting the ball; his 3.1 per match made him the most frequent stealer of the ball from the opposition.

Luka Modric on the other hand was a passer, the tempo setter and distributor of the ball from deep. He also won possession back by intercepting rather than tackling, but his job was to move the ball and always be available for a pass. He took possession from short passes by Parker and moved it wide to Bale and Lennon, whilst also looking for through balls to Adebayor or Defoe.


Scott Parker and Luka Modric passes played Spurs vs WIgan.

It was no surprise that Luka Modric lead the team in chances created with 96 last season, whilst also making the most passes of any Spurs player with 70 per match.

Two players, two defined roles, but the pair perfectly complimented each other perfectly. Scott Parker the defensive force and ball winner; Luka Modric the instigator of attacks, pulling the strings once in possession.

These two differ not only in size to Sandro and Moussa Dembele in the centre of our midfield, but also to how our new pair operate.

Sandro and Moussa Dembele

Moussa Dembele arrived from Fulham after the sale of Luka Modric and has formed a dynamic midfield duo with Sandro as part of a 4-3-3 formation. The Brazilian plays as the deeper lying of the pair, but the two operate as a fluid partnership. Both of them do the defensive work and both have licence to go forward, requiring the other man to fill in.

Sandro is the main screen for the defence; he wins the ball back making 3.6 tackles per game and 3.1 interceptions. Once in possession he doesn’t always move the ball to Moussa Dembele, often preferring to move it wide as we can see in our last game with Aston Villa on Stats Zone. His top passing target on the day was right-sided forward Aaron Lennon. In the match with Man Utd a week earlier, it was right back Kyle Walker.


Rather than laying it off to Moussa Dembele, Sandro moves the ball to wide areas when in possession.

Sandro is not content with just being a ball-winner and distributor; he also gets up the pitch and creates chances, showing he is more than a defensive machine. So far he is generating 1.4 goal-scoring opportunities a game, with his 10 chances created almost at half of Scott Parker’s 22 last season.

His partner, Moussa Dembele, also does his share of the defensive work with 3.8 tackles per game and 2 interceptions. When he gets on the ball, he does move it to Sandro, but his job is to also move the ball quickly wide, which we can see he does against Aston Villa and Man Utd. Very few of his passes are vertical in to the penalty area like we saw with Luka Modric.


Moussa Dembele moves the ball to the flanks for the wide players to create.

Sandro averages 1.4 chance-creating key passes per match and Moussa Dembele records slightly more with 1.6 per game, as the opportunities are created from wide areas this season. Gareth Bale leads the team with 2.9 chances created per game and Aaron Lennon is just behind with 2.7 per match.

The evolution of the Spurs midfield

From Scott Parker and Luka Modric to Sandro and Moussa Dembele, our central midfield has evolved from two players with defined roles to two in a more fluid, interchangeable partnership.

Scott Parker won the ball and distributed it to Luka Modric who pulled the strings, always being available for a pass and always looking to create chances. Parker was the top tackler last season, Modric the most frequent supplier of key passes. It was a simple relationship.

This term, Moussa Dembele and Sandro have formed a different partnership. Both are formidable tacklers and interceptors of the ball and fill in for each other should one go forward. Once in possession, both look to move play wide to Bale or Lennon and the fullbacks to create chances for the team.

Luka Modric led Spurs in average passes played per match with 70 last season and Scott Parker was second with 59 passes per game. This term Moussa Dembele averages 50 passes played per match and Sandro 45, as fullbacks Assou-Ekotto (55 passes), Kyle Walker (49) and Jan Vertonghen (46) have seen more of the ball.

Our midfield has evolved in its style of play, as Andre Villas-Boas centres on the system as opposed to Harry Redknapp’s focus on individuals.

It’s a different kind of partnership this season with Sandro and Moussa Dembele in the middle, time will tell if it’s more successful.

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