While Tottenham Hotspur’s 4-2 defeat at the hands of Chelsea last Saturday left many supporters frustrated, there was a feeling that Andre Villas-Boas’ side were somewhat handicapped before a ball was even kicked. But while the box office absence of Gareth Bale left many pining for the installation of a birthing pool at White Hart Lane, it was the absence of Mousa Dembele, that felt a little more palpable.

Nothing should be taken away from Roberto Di Matteo’s side, who exhibited a brand of football that was both classy as it was expansive and even if Bale and Dembele had been playing, there are no guarantees that the magic of Juan Mata wouldn’t have wielded a similar outcome.

You can take your pick from what part of the Spurs XI left you particularly exasperated, but it was matters in the engine room that seemed to impact a rather unique form of disappointment. With Bale, Spurs fans are all too aware of his mercurial talent and he’s been around long enough for supporters to at least brace themselves for a forthcoming absence – they know what to expect when he’s out the side and nine times out of ten, it isn’t particularly enjoyable.

But when Dembele’s name was left missing off the team sheet, a very more unfamiliar anxiety cast itself upon White Hart Lane. Fans have watched in glee over the last few weeks as the Belgian has imposed himself as one of the key pieces in the AVB jigsaw in recent weeks. It takes quite the player to inflict a similar level of woe in their absence as Bale, but Dembele seems to have managed to pull the trick off.

Indeed, after only five Premier League games in a Spurs shirt, Dembele has become not so much a key piece but a vital component in Andre Villas-Boas’ side and for the lingering few that harnessed any form of doubt about that, Saturday offered a very emphatic demonstration. Tottenham were outsmarted, overrun and overpowered in central midfield by Di Matteo’s side. Bale may be the more talented footballer and the one, true match winner at White Hart Lane but Dembele already sees to be the glue that bonds.

The central midfield pairing of Tom Huddlestone and Sandro, were themselves, relatively handicapped last Saturday. For all the analysis on his credentials, attitude and future at White Hart Lane, it’s worth noting that Huddlestone remains woefully short of solid Premier League playing time and until he harnesses a run of matches in this side, he’s going to find it difficult to get up to full speed. A first league start of the season against Chelsea was a baptism of fire to say the least.

But as much of an age old cliché as it may represent, the 25-year-old’s lack of mobility seemed to be a perpetual issue for much of his 67 minutes on the pitch. At their very best this season, Spurs have been a flowing blur of attacking white and perhaps none more so than their first half display away to Manchester United. Yet it’s hard to imagine Huddlestone would have been able to shift defense into attack in the sort of manner Dembele did for Bale’s goal at Old Trafford. Without the Belgian, the fluidity was gone and there was Spurs were devoid of any form of catalyzing element.

But it’s not just from the attacking perspective that Spurs missed the Belgian, either. Spurs fans saw first hand the fragility of Villas-Boas’ 4-2-3-1 system when the midfield aren’t executing their roles properly. During their first three games, the midfield pairing of Jake Livermore and Sandro seemed woefully inept because the holding pair have to have an understanding of when to sit and when to go.  The common urban myth is that AVB likes to play two defensive midfielders at home, but that’s not necessarily the case.

The holding pair must be fluid, interchangeable and at least 50% of the combination must be able to create, not just negate. With Dembele and Sandro, we have seen the pair develop a growing understanding and they seem at ease at counteracting each other’s on pitch decisions. With Jake Livermore and Tom Huddlestone, they appear too defined in their styles of play to really make the 4-2-3-1 stick. This isn’t to say they don’t have great individual qualities, but in this set-up, Dembele is the jewel in the crown.

It’s easy to pick on Huddlestone and it’s worth mentioning that Sandro probably played as poorly as he has done in quite some time in a Spurs shirt. How much that can be attributed to Dembele’s absence is arguable, but you’d certainly like to think that the Brazilian doesn’t have too many off days like that in the near future. But for all his attributes, the difference is that Sandro’s job is of chief destroyer. Huddlestone was the one tasked with instigating a creative spark.

Yet throughout this team we saw a Spurs side visibly weakened by the loss of their key midfielder and it was felt from top to bottom. With no one to instigate sweeping moves forward from defense, Spurs’ counter-attacking weapons of Aaron Lennon and Jermain Defoe felt a little more redundant. With a distinct lack of midfield dynamism, the defense seemed exposed and less confident to build from the back with a very rigid midfield pair in front of them.

Without their link from defense to attack, Spurs looked like a Ferrari running with a gearbox of a Range Rover. And they played like one, too. Of course, Clint Dempsey seemed flat, Gylfi Sigurdsson was at times anonymous and maybe the less said of William Gallas’ performance, the better. But Tottenham felt fundamentally flawed in midfield and the loss of Mousa Dembele reverberated throughout the entire Tottenham team.

But perhaps the alarming effect that Mousa Dembele’s absence had upon the team might give Andre Villas-Boas food for thought. The Belgian is the glue that binds the Portuguese’s new set-up together. Tom Huddlestone might represent the metaphorical Range Rover gearbox, but he’d probably work well, if actually put in a Range Rover. There’s more than one way to play and if Dembele continues to miss game time, a temporary tweak in style wouldn’t be so bad at all. The 4-2-3-1 seems lost at sea without it’s key, Belgian power source, to make it work.

In the meantime, Spurs physios will be doing all they can to get him fit again.  Make no mistake about it, the Belgian is now as important to Tottenham as anyone else in N17.

How do you feel about the impact Mousa Dembele has had since joining Tottenham Hotspur? Are Spurs already reliant upon him or does AVB simply need to tinker the team slightly in his absence? Let me know on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and tell me what you think.

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  • bazayid
    2 years ago

    i cant agree more,i was more worried seeing dembeles name off the start list than bales.dembele has been exellent since day 1 when he came on scored

    Reply
  • Brian
    2 years ago

    Yea, they are our two best players (aside from possibly Vertonghen). If you took out Hazard and Mata and put them in you’d have a very different game. We were also missing Kaboul, Ekotto and Parker! I was actually happy with the performance and felt we were unlucky not to get something, and that was without a few key players. So optimistic with how things are going for the next few years under the new management.

    Reply
  • davspurs
    2 years ago

    This makes me laugh because not long ago Norwich who beat Arsenal 1-0 Just a few weeks ago they where said to e title contenders. to lose Bale and Dembele drop Lloris play Walker and Defoe plus Caulker who all had trying times in Poland Serbia. Also they where made to swallow a drug a few years ago on the band list and well known to me this could drain our players and Chelsea knew this lets just say they had extra. This meant with Old legs 35 Gallas Hudds not played three games running or even two Dempsey Siggy all away on International duty along with Lennon Walker Defoethis meant Chelsea would be sharper and dominate the ball all AVB had to do was play Lloris Dawson Townsend and Ady and Defoe upfront. This could be down to the massive wages ABV paid AVB so he made Chelsea job easier the only player who ad the speed to get away from the snappy energized Chelsea players was Lennonwho tired with Walker and Defoe and the rest where subbed. This game left me with mor whys than any other game Why play Defoe on his own why drop Lloris when he had held the mighty Spain to a draw. Why play Defoe who played on a sodden pitch in Poland on his own with tired Dempsey. Why send the subs on when the game had swug Chelsea way and why use two subs when we needed all three fresh legs. My answer is the stupid Ufa is clouding his judgment. Has for Chelsea and Everton Burn out will soon be looming

    Reply
    • Clock Milk
      2 years ago

      Re comments by bazayid and davspurs. I applaud the fact you support the best team in the Premier League, but, guys, get yourselves down to a literacy class somewhere local and improve the state of your written comments. Bazayid, ever heard of capital letters? Davspurs, ever considered doing a bit of proofreading before clicking the submit button? A ‘band’ is either something made of elastic, plastic or matal designed to contain, or a small collection of enthusiastic musicians who perform on a regular basis; I think you’ll find ‘banned’ was the word you were looking for. And might the words ‘mor’ and ‘swug’ be missing something? Is there a difference between ‘has’ and ‘as’? Notwithstanding the above comments, I agree with the sentiments expressed and hope Spurs pull it together this afternoon at Southampton to register a win by good margin to boost our goal difference a bit.

      Reply
      • Clock Milk
        2 years ago

        Of course, as if to prove the theory that proofreading is something to do with great diligence, the ‘matal’ of my comment should have read ‘metal’. There boys, I give you hope! COYS!

        Reply
  • davspurs
    2 years ago

    This would have bean my team win lose or draw. Lloris Walker Dawson Caulker Vertonghan Lennon Hudds Sandro Townsend Defoe Aby. and bring Dempsey and siggy on in the second half with Gallas for Walker

    Reply
  • John G
    2 years ago

    Early days yet. Let’s get all players fit and then see if AVB plays the right team.Lloris must start though or he will be gone and he is world class. Still some players in first team squad who are not good enough. The right players bought in January and who knows?

    Reply
  • Lilywhite London
    2 years ago

    Good points made. We need to be more attacking at home in particular and it seems Dembele has become the main creative player, the playmaker. Just our luck to be missing our two best midfielders in such a big game. I honestly think had they played, we’d have beaten Chelsea. Once we came back to 2-1 we needed to keep the ball and and give a threat on the break to finish them off. Bot Bale and Dembele would have helped massively on both counts. hopefully we’ll do them at their place. We’re better away under this manager anyway at the moment… Why can we only play on the break at the moment? Where’s the plan B AVB?

    Reply
  • Camiush
    2 years ago

    We just need a massive rebluid: Jovetic, Montolivo, Gaitan, Ba, Moussa Sissoko, jan vertonghen, Gregory , Honda Cech[ Ivano/Gregory - Luiz/Cahill - Terry/Vertonghen - Vertonghen/Ryan/PVA][ Montolivo/Josh - Romeu/Sissoko/Luiz][Jovetic/Ramires, Mata/Jovetic, Honda, Gaitan/kevin][Torres/Ba/Sturridge]Manager : Frank Rikaard/Louis Van GaalDEFENCE: what the need is a consistent partnership, sure footed.. no nonsense defendersDM: I have a composed passer, ball keeper with vision and an eye for a pass to start play quickly ( he is a ball winner too a bit box to box too ). Beside him is a man tackler.. his purpose is to hustle win he ball distribute fast!! he will sit most of the time (90%).Att Mid: im looking for passers, pace, creativity, flair, heart, determination,one on one qualities ability to take on defenders and assist the striker.CF: A world class finisher, who knows where the goal is with out looking* in the overall team.. there are high quality free kick takers.. penalty takers corner kick takersA manager with man management ability, style, tactically capable, reasoning ability, reading the game very well, charisma Passion. ability to deal with the English media, ability to deal with Roman 36

    Reply