As we swing into the New Year and head at a canter past the half way point in the Barclays Premier League this season, it’s given many the chance to take stock of the division’s star performers so far this term. And from a midfield perspective, the effervescent Tottenham Hotspur duo of Sandro and Mousa Dembele would be sure to find themselves near the peak of any top tens conjured up at this time of the year.
Indeed, from an individual perspective, both Sandro and Dembele have more than the odd reason to be proud of their work in the Tottenham engine room over the past five months. After simmering in and out of the first XI under Harry Redknapp, Sandro has gone from a talented, yet unpredictable midfield battler into an indispensible fan favourite under the tutelage of Andre Villas-Boas.
In the case of Mousa Dembele, the application of an unique skillset encompassing both delicate skill and unnerving Belgian power, has seen him reduce his £15million price tag to one of the bargains of the season.
But for all the exhaustive lists of the pair’s individual talents, it’s when you view them as a combined entity that you really begin to gauge how Spurs have quietly gone about their business climbing up to third in the Premier League table. Because as a central midfield partnership, they may be just about the best there is around in the country at this present moment in time.
Of course, this isn’t the first time in recent years that Spurs have laid claim to possessing such a vaulted double act in the centre of the park. In fact, you only have to cast your mind back to this time last year and the success of Luka Modric and Scott Parker within Harry Redknapp’s team, to understand the pressure that Andre Villas-Boas was under to find a similar winning formula. The success of Parker and his Croatian foil left quite the legacy for the side to match this term.
Considering that despite the eventual departure of Modric to Real Madrid, Spurs still possessed both Parker and Sandro at the start of the season, you wouldn’t have thought the task awaiting AVB was anything nearing alchemy. But with Parker sidelined with an Achilles injury that rendered him unavailable from the start of the term till mid-December, Tottenham were in essence starting the new season with a new-look engine room to boot.
Sandro’s 23 league starts last season do of course lay waste to the new cog notion, but where as last term he was the man standing on the periphery, looking to fight his way into the first team plans, the Brazilian entered this term as top dog. While supporters never doubted his ability, was the ex-Internacional man up to taking on the extra responsibility and expectation that came with being a solidified first teamer? His side’s third placing in the Premier League tells you all you need to know.
Combined with the majestic Mousa Dembele, Sandro has been imperious in the Spurs midfield this season, but it’s the unique combination of his partnership with the Belgian that’s been the real catalyst for his success.
While Manchester City’s Yaya Toure may be the division’s best example of the complete midfielder, the skillsets of both Sandro and Dembele aren’t cut from a cloth that is too dissimilar in its versatility.
Sandro’s natural remit as a midfielder is of course one built around negation. He’s Villas-Boas’ most aptly skilled defensive enforcer and his ability to intercept, snuff out and thwart danger in that patented combative manner of his, has seen him arguably shine through as the club’s most prominent performer this term. But his role in the team isn’t simply consigned to destroying play – he can create it, too.
He may not be likely to pick a through ball out Tom Huddlestone-esque from 40yards, but when the 23-year-old picks up the ball, very rarely does he give it away. Sandro doesn’t just win the ball, but he can travel with it too, helping contribute to one of the most fluid midfields in the division.
And in Mousa Dembele, he has the perfect foil. The Belgian’s ability to almost sail past players at will with an elegance that defies his size has been a joy to watch this season. But for all his speed on the break and ability on the ball, the ex-Fulham man isn’t without a touch of the Sandro’s himself.
Dembele may have made the second highest number of key passes in the league so far (28, behind Samir Nasri’s 33) but as well as being the ninth most successful dribbler in the league (with 1.9 per game) he also makes the top ten list for tackles made by midfielders in the Premier League (2.9). In front of him? Amongst others, you’ll find a certain Sandro as the seventh most efficient tackler.
And it’s within this diversity and range of skill which has been the key to the pair’s success. While Sandro is the destroyer in chief and Dembele offers the spark of creativity, they both possess not just the ability to perform each other’s role, but to perform it to a startlingly high standard. The side are blessed to possess a midfield partnership that’s as skillful as it is strong and as industrious as it is inventive.
While individually the likes of the aforementioned Toure and David Silva may possess a little more stardust, when it comes to a fully functioning central midfield partnership, there are few better than the duo of Sandro and Mousa Dembele. If Villas-Boas can eek a similar level of productivity out of the players that sit in front of them, then 2013 could be a very special year indeed for the Lilywhites.