Mousa Dembele may have found himself on the brink of leaving Spurs at various points of Mauricio Pochettino’s reign, but this appears to be the season when he has finally come of age.
The Belgian, signed from Fulham in 2012, played just 10 times last season, and was widely linked with a move abroad. The main criticism aimed at Dembele, from fans and manager alike, was a reluctance to go forward, and a tendency to pass sideways all too often.
That is a claim that would carry little weight now, given his recent run of form. Not only has Dembele found his scoring boots, he has been key as Spurs have developed a new-found dominance in midfield.
In last weekend’s 0-0 draw with Chelsea, the 28-year-old bossed the middle of the park, as well as forcing a good save from Blues’ goalkeeper Asmir Begovic. In fact, had Dele Alli not been suspended, Dembele might have been even more creative, as the pair have discovered a special partnership in the centre. Though Spurs could not find a goal themselves, containing his compatriot Eden Hazard was half the task for Dembele, and he pulled it off.
Crucial to his recent success has been his confidence, which in large can be put down to Pochettino’s assured philosophy this season. Whereas in previous years, Dembele may have been shy on the ball, he has demonstrated a new strength, particularly when making it onto the scoresheet against Aston Villa, doing well to resist pressure from centre-back Ciaran Clark.
His first-time strike against Anderlecht in the Europa League served as a timely reminder of why he deserves to play week in, week out, at least in the Premier League. It may even be worth reserving him for the league; unsurprisingly, he looked all the fresher for not having travelled to Azerbajan four days prior to the Chelsea squad like the majority of the first-team squad.
From Pochettino’s point of view, the make-up of his midfield is far from an easy decision, especially while Dembele and Ryan Mason are competing for a similar role. There are also a number of youngsters, such as Harry Winks, whom Pochettino is keen to blood.
What is vital, nonetheless, is that the Spurs boss places enough value in Dembele to keep him at the club in January and beyond.