Last Tuesday, watching Belgium take on Scotland was a pleasure rather than a chore. Seeing the likes of Axel Witsel, Kevin De Bruyne and Dries Mertens strut their stuff in Brussels was a joy to behold. Naturally, like any fan watching their team, it was easy to take a keen interest in Tottenham Hotspur duo Mousa Dembele and Jan Vertonghen.
The pairing arrived at White Hart Lane over the summer and have instantly endeared themselves to the Spurs faithful with a number of highly impressive performances. Vertonghen may’ve shone at both centre-back and left-back with his maturity and versatility an asset to head-coach Andre Villas-Boas.
However, it is Dembele that has provided the missing link that the club desperately needed upon the loss of Luka Modric. Prior to the departure of the Croatian and subsequent arrival of his Belgian counterpart, Spurs lacked any form of cohesion and drive from deep; something the defensive minded pairing of Jake Livermore and Sandro couldn’t provide.
It was no surprise to see the performances against Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion, coupled with the first-half of the encounter with Norwich City, lacked any form of creative spark without a deep lying playmaker.
It is Dembele that has provided the missing link that the club desperately needed upon the departure of Luka Modric
The team looked lost when pushing forward and it wasn’t until after the first international break, one dominated by reported turmoil within the Spurs ranks, that the starting XI looked to gel, as witnessed by the following four Premiership wins over Reading, QPR, Manchester United and Aston Villa.
That run, however, came to an abrupt end over the weekend when Chelsea visited White Hart Lane, with the Blues over powering and out playing their north London counterparts. Winning the midfield battle was key to securing victory and extending Spurs’ home derby winning streak to 21 games.
Nevertheless, it was no shock to see Chelsea absolutely dominate the middle of the park, through the quintet of John Obi Mikel, Ramires, Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard. The former pairing ensured that nothing came through the Spurs midfield, again devoid of any real creativity.
This is where Dembele would’ve provided that spark as the deep lying playmaker. However, upon viewing Belgium’s 2-0 win over Scotland last week, many were quick to notice that the 25-year-old was substituted at half-time in place of Hazard.
Nevertheless, it was no shock to see Chelsea absolutely dominate the middle of the park
As it turns out, the former Fulham ace had suffered a recurrence of a hip problem that has plagued him in the past. Villas-Boas did admit that Dembele would undergo a late fitness test ahead of the London derby, but missed out regardless.
His loss, along with that of Gareth Bale, saw the team suffer but also highlighted an all important aspect that needs addressing; Spurs still need another midfielder. While there is depth in the middle of the park, through Dembele, Sandro, Livermore, Tom Huddlestone, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Scott Parker, none can offer the same threat as the Belgian.
Huddlestone, it can be argued, is the most comparable to his teammate, but his lack of mobility against Chelsea’s all action midfield was painstakingly evident. This is likely to have come about from his lack of playing time through injury, but it was a game which regularly bypassed the 25-year-old with the trio of Hazard, Oscar and Mata too slight and quick for the midfielder.
Parker, currently sidelined with an Achilles problem, may be all action, but isn’t the player to break forward from the middle of the park and support the attacking quartet of, at present, Bale, Clint Dempsey, Aaron Lennon and Jermain Defoe.
While there is depth in the middle of the park, through Dembele, Sandro, Livermore, Tom Huddlestone, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Scott Parker, none can off the same threat as the Belgian
Furthermore, like Livermore in midfield, his defensive capabilities would see the aforementioned lack of cohesion again emerge. There is the argument that Sigurdsson could fulfil the role, but then his life at Spurs hasn’t started as many would’ve expected, often looking lost when called upon; his one goal in eight appearances is a testament to this.
So, while the depth is available to Villas-Boas, the necessary strength most certainly isn’t. Spurs desperately need a man of similar capability to Dembele once the transfer window re-opens, should a similar scenario to that of Saturday rear its ugly head once again.
This is further reinforced by the club’s doomed pursuit of FC Porto star Joao Moutinho on transfer deadline day. As anybody will tell you, a fee was believed to have been agreed, before problems regarding personal terms and third party ownership emerged and before anybody knew it, the clock had chimed for 11pm.
Spurs have once again been linked with a move for the Portugal star once the transfer window re-opens in January, with Moutinho changing his agent to Jorge Mendes, the same man who represents Villas-Boas, adding fuel to the fire.
Spurs desperately need a man of similar capability to Dembele once the transfer window re-opens
Following an impressive European Championship, it was no surprise to have seen the 26-year-old’s stock rise considerably and his capabilities would certainly have been witnessed by all those interested in Moutinho.
He isn’t the only midfielder to have been linked with a switch to White Hart Lane, with Shakhtar Donetsk’s samba star Willian earlier this week admitting he regularly speaks with Villas-Boas, of whom he tried to sign during his ill-fated stint with Chelsea.
It is unsurprising to see him mooted with a possible January switch to Spurs, especially with the midfielder confirming that the 35-year-old has ‘become a friend’ during their time conversing with one another.
Whether it is Moutinho or Willian that arrives in January, it is imperative that Villas-Boas and chairman Daniel Levy dip into the transfer market in order to strengthen then midfield, not only to provide competition for Dembele, but also back-up for the Belgian should a scenario reminiscent of the weekend occur once again.
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