Cartilage Free Captain continues its series reviewing the players of Tottenham Hotspur and how they performed in the 2015-16 Premier League season. Today's subject: Belgian central midfielder Moussa Dembele.
Appearances: 33 (27 in Premier League)
Cards: 3 Yellow, 0 Red
Pass Accuracy: 90%
What went right?
Moussa Dembélé's Spurs career careened off course in the 2014-15 season. After an absolutely stellar first year with the club and a steady second term, Dembélé's third year at White Hart Lane left questions about his future. Newly appointed manager Mauricio Pochettino wasn't as sold on Dembélé as his predecessors and even if Dembélé wasn't part of the Kaboul Cabal, he still got iced in favor of Nabil Bentaleb, Ryan Mason, Etienne Capoue, and even Nacer Chadli for portions of the season. Dembélé's talent remained, but was he a fit for a Mauricio Pochettino-run side?
Call it a Dembélé detente if you will, but any of the perceived difficulties between Poche & Moose seemed to be washed away by the beginning of the 2015-16 season. Dembélé started out the term in an unusual role — out wide, on the right side, in the attacking band — yet he was included in the starting eleven nonetheless. An idea held by many was that Moose was just too good to ride the pine. Where would he play, well that question was a bit more difficult, but Poche showed faith in him from the start and boy did that faith pay off.
Dembélé's role as a destroyer-winger was short-lived, but his time on the pitch was not. Moussa shifted to the central position in the attacking band for a few games, before reclaiming his rightful role, the role that he had flourished in during his first year with the club, the attacking spot in a double pivot with a proper defensive midfielder sitting behind.
As Dele Alli wowed the world with his cool finishes, exquisite touches, and dangerous vertical runs from midfield, Moose sat back and was the glue that kept the midfield machine running. From both an offensive and defensive perspective, one can argue that he was our most important player. Moose had an astounding 90% completion rate with his passing this year. He still isn't the guy who will score bags of goals or consistently play that sublime through ball that unlocks defenses, but the man is stupidly accurate with his passing and does something many midfielders can't; eliminate defenders on the dribble. Dembélé creates fits for defenses because he simply never gives the ball the away. For a player who is thrown into attack often, where both the number of defenders and the difficulty of either passing or dribbling forward increases, this is a special quality. While Dembélé may not be found on many highlight reels for recycling possession, it is quite gratifying to see grown men try to take the ball off his feet, only to see them break against his frame like wave on granite.
He was also incredibly important in the press. Moose's mobility and his ability to read the game saw him be a menace to the opposition in the center of the park. He was able to deflect, intercept, or tackle the ball in dangerous areas, while his application of pressure, in the instances where he did not win the ball, often forced an errant long pass from the attack or a weak ball through the middle where Eric Dier would capitalize and destroy. Moussa's presence from a defensive standpoint was just as important as his offensive play.
What went wrong?
When he was on the field, there wasn't much to complain about concerning Moussa Demélé. His problem this term though lay in the fact that Moose missed a significant number of games due to injury and suspension. Considering the type of team we were when he was on the pitch, it isn't a stretch to say that we would likely be Premier League champions if he didn't miss eleven matches this season.
Injuries are unlucky and annoying. Suspensions though, well they are unacceptable. The Battle at the Bridge was a pretty miserable day in recent Spurs history, yet there was no bigger loss from that fight than the six match ban Moose received from the FA. In an act of pure idiocy, Dembélé gauged the eye of Diego Costa. While the collective of humanity might have been pleased with this decision, Moose was always going to face a harsh punishment. While his absence in the last few games wasn't the sole reason for our collapse, it can be argued that his suspension was the team's biggest impediment its stretch-run.
Tottenham Hotspur will deal with high expectations from the start next season. It will be interesting to see how the squad reacts, but also how certain players respond too. Moussa Dembélé gave resounding answers to many of his critics questions this year, but as new challenges arise, so do more questions.
Can he maintain the level consistency and productivity we saw this year? Can he avoid injuries and long stretches off the pitch? How will he perform on the grandest of stages in his inaugural Champions League campaign with club?
If anything Moose is a cool customer. His talent was never in doubt, but he realized his potential this term. Neither hype, nor elevated expectations should phase him. His place in Poche's system works and it seems like he is as sure of his role with the team as ever. Barring injury, look for Dembélé to build off his 2015-16 season and continue to be one of the Premier League's most formidable central midfielders.
Rating: Five Chirpies