If Tottenham Hotspur have managed to develop the knack of winning games without managing to play particularly well in recent weeks, then Mousa Dembele may well serve as a microcosm of their current performances.
The big Belgian has been a box-office hit at White Hart Lane since making his £15million summer move from Fulham during the summer, quickly becoming the glue that has stuck Andre Villas-Boas’ team together this term. While Gareth Bale has been the side’s best player, Dembele perhaps hasn’t been a million miles away in terms of how important his skillset has been in making this side tick.
Although the effervescent displays of strength, mobility and surging runs from deep, haven’t been delivered with quite the efficiency that fans have come to expect from Dembele in recent games. And after seeing their midfield already suffer one torturous blow in the knee ligament damage that ruled Sandro out for the season, supporters are understandably anxious to see their driving force in the engine room look to run out of steam.
Yet while Dembele’s performances over the last few fixtures haven’t come close to touching the form that we witnessed during the early parts of this season, those seeking to overanalyze the Belgian’s drop in form are at risk of looking for answers where there aren’t any to be had.
As the Premier League season heads full steam into February, Dembele couldn’t have picked a worse time to start churning out a series of sub-par performances. With the season about to head into the final straight and Spurs in a real dogfight to contend for a fourth-placed finish, now’s the sort of time in which you expect to see your squad move forward in their performances, not regress.
And over the last few games, despite some of the criticism aimed at him being wildly out of proportion, Dembele hasn’t looked completely at the races.
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Following several weeks out with a hip complaint earlier in the season, rumours have continued to grumble that the former AZ Alkmaar-man is still in need of surgery to finally put the issue to bed. Judging by the lack of sharpness since his return to the side, that concept certainly isn’t without a touch of gravitas.
Although within that that spell out, supporters’ expectations towards him also seemed to bloat excessively out of proportion. His performances in a Spurs shirt before he ended up on the treatment table were superb, although you can’t help but feel that amongst some quarters of fans, the expectation was that Dembele would prove an instant remedy to the side’s lack of fluidity.
Since that hasn’t happened, the school of thought seems to be that there’s something drastically wrong with their No19.
Whether this hip issue truly is hindering his performances to such an extent remain to be seen, although as with all things at White Hart Lane, every issue seems to demand a forensic investigation to establish its cause. And it appears few seem to have considered the prospect that Dembele is simply suffering a dip in form.
The concept of any player simply being unable to perform at 100% over a 38 game league season seems to have become something approaching a taboo subject in the Premier League, but every player bar a very exceptional few in this league, is going to experience a difficult spell in the league. Mousa Dembele is no different.
Where as earlier on this season Dembele was gliding past midfielders for fun, we’ve frequently seen him walk into the opposition over the last few games and cheaply loose possession.
The flicks and shimmies that were coming off for him a couple of months ago just aren’t sticking at the moment and where as the more advanced elements of his game have been faltering, that lack of confidence seems to have affected the bread-and-butter parts, too.
Against Newcastle United on Saturday, Dembele’s uncharacteristic hesitance on the ball was exposed by Alan Pardew’s combative midfield and not for the first time over the last few games, the Belgian looked vulnerable. For a home crowd that have known nothing but excellence from their unique midfielder, seeing him struggle to take control of the game was a very rare sight indeed.
But as opposed to looking for some form of tactical solution to Dembele’s issues, an unnecessary switch around in personnel or even a spell out of the side, all he really needs to do, is simply keep playing.
The best tonic that Dembele can get to overcome a series of fading performances is a dose of hearty support from the fans and time in the side to ride this period out. The lack of depth that Villas-Boas has within his midfield suggests that it would have to take something drastic for him to sit out a couple of games, but even if he had adequate cover, he’s not going to find an answer to his problems sitting on the bench.
Only time will tell how much his hip issue may or may not be hindering him and you suspect that Dembele probably isn’t playing at 100%. But supporters must be patient and they must be realistic in regards to their expectations towards him. Yes, he isn’t gallivanting around the pitch with quite the verve he had a few months ago, but he’s still playing a vital part in this Tottenham side pushing for a top four finish.
Mousa Dembele may have inadvertently picked a poor time to go off the boil, but time heals everything – be it injury, defeat and most poignantly, a lack of form. Now wouldn’t be a bad time to remember that.