Last weekend saw Tottenham Hotspur lose their first match in the Premier League since December, but there were plenty of excellent performances from Andre Villas-Boas’ players, with Mousa Dembele standing out in a more advanced role.
With Aaron Lennon sidelined, Villas-Boas opted to move Dembele forward ahead of Jake Livermore and Scott Parker in the centre. While the new central midfield pairing underwhelmed, with Parker and Livermore both either unambitious or wasteful in possession, Dembele thrived when given the extra freedom of his new position.
Still careful to help out his side defensively, Dembele terrorised the Liverpool backline, enabling Spurs to maintain possession in the final third of the pitch and creating space for Gareth Bale and Jermain Defoe. Spurs might have lacked a little width in the absence of Lennon, but Dembele’s performance suggests that he could be very effective playing as the furthest forward of a three man midfield in a 4-3-3 system.
This has been mooted as Andre Villas-Boas planned formation for next season, and if Spurs could finally add Joao Moutinho to the squad to play alongside Dembele and Sandro in the middle of the park, then they would have the personnel to make this system work.
Even if Moutinho is not brought in this summer, and as Spurs fans we can all agree that getting our hopes up is unwise, Dembele should be given an extended run in a more advanced position, as his physical presence and ability on the ball is even more effective when in the final third where Spurs can sometimes struggle in the face of a bank of defenders. Dembele’s seemingly effortless ability to beat his man creates space for the players around him, something which is at a premium in and around the opposition box.
The right men have to be in place behind him to ensure Dembele’s presence in the centre of the park is not missed, and so far Livermore and Parker look far below the standard required. For the rest of this season Dembele might well have to return to the centre of the team but it could be worth trying Lewis Holtby or Tom Carroll alongside one of Parker and Livermore to ensure Spurs are able to retain possession in midfield whilst freeing up Dembele.
Even if we have to wait until next season to see it again, Dembele’s performance on Sunday demands that he is given another opportunity in a more attacking role, and it would not be surprising if this was the position he ended up playing for most of his Spurs career.