Tottenham Hotspur have had a bid accepted for Moussa Dembele, Fulham's ultra-versatile Belgian international star. He emerged as one of the Premier League's top players outside of the Sky Six last year, and between his great performances in a Belgium shirt and his hot start in England, Fulham will be cashing a huge check when Spurs have finished dotting their I's and crossing their T's.
Dembele has played some central midfield and is a very creative player, so he's being thought of as a "Modric replacement" by many fans of Tottenham Hotspur. In reality, that's only half true; Dembele's positioning in the center is very questionable compared to Luka Modric. A natural attacking midfielder with lots of experience on the wings, Dembele is still learning how to play in a deep central role. He's not going to be a perfect fit for Spurs in that spot eventually, and he could be a disaster in a double pivot against teams with elite attacking midfielders.
However, Dembele's biggest asset might be his versatility, even more so than his technical prowess and creativity, and that's what makes him such a great buy for Spurs, as he would have been for anyone else.
Tottenham are currently playing a 4-2-3-1 formation. They played a bit of 4-3-3 last season when it fit the available personnel, and Andre Villas-Boas has previously set up his FC Porto and Chelsea teams in a 4-3-3.
Quickly, for those who are not up on the basics of how these formations are usually deployed: The '2' in the '4-2-3-1' is often referred to as the "double pivot'. This means that two holding midfielders are used, and that they will generally take turns between who covers the defense and who gets forward to aid the attack. In most variations of the 4-3-3, there are two midfielders who have attacking and defensive responsibilities, but both of them are allowed to get forward at the same time. There is generally one defensive midfielder behind them who does little to no getting forward.
Spurs spent most of last season -- and both of their first two games this season -- playing with a double pivot. Modric's positional sense in that spot is very good, and he almost always got back into the right spot when Tottenham lost the ball. He wasn't able to muscle anyone off the ball defensively, but his positioning and underrated technical tackling ability made up for it.
Dembele is simply not up to Modric's standard when it comes to positioning and defensive play as a central midfielder, and as such, he can't really be a direct replacement, at least this season. Deploying a double pivot containing Dembele against the best attacking midfielders in the league is asking for trouble. If you don't believe me, re-watch this weekend's Manchester United-Fulham match and do nothing but watch Dembele and Shinji Kagawa. When United was dominant, it was mostly because of how easily Kagawa could get onto the ball and help spring an attack.
This doesn't mean that Dembele isn't worth buying, however. Just because he can't play every week in a double pivot does not mean that he can't play every week for Tottenham Hotspur. He's a much better defensive winger than Aaron Lennon and would be a more defensively-adept and possession-oriented option than either Gylfi Sigurdsson or Rafael Van der Vaart, either as the central attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 or as the attacking-most midfielder in a 4-3-3.
No matter what level of competition Spurs are playing against and what formation they're playing in, there should be a place for Dembele in their starting XI. He improves the team at multiple positions, even if he cannot directly fill the shoes of Modric.
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