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Pochettino defends decision to not start Mousa Dembele against West Ham

Tottenham’s midfield was crying out for Moose, but Poch isn’t ready to admit he might have gotten it wrong.

Crystal Palace v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur’s midfield wasn’t especially effective in Friday’s 1-0 loss to West Ham, a loss that essentially ended any chance they may have of catching Chelsea for the Premier League title. Pochettino opted to start a midfield pivot of Victor Wanyama and Eric Dier in a 4-2-3-1 formation against Slaven Bilic’s side who was set up to frustrate.

Afterwards, Pochettino was asked about why he left Pochettino on the bench, but Spurs’ gaffer wasn’t ready to admit that he might have made an error with his team management.

Did you miss Mousa Dembele out there?

No, I think our strength is in our collective, our squad. I think with Mousa we lose and we win with different players. This season was important for all to see that football is not about one man or one player, it's about being strong as a unit.

Of course, Mousa can bring to the team different things to maybe another player. But today I don't believe it was about a problem with playing with one player or another player.

Press conference transcript by

With respect to Poch and everything he’s done for Tottenham this season, I don’t think you’d find many Spurs fans who would agree with his assessment. The midfield combination of Eric Dier and Victor Wanyama, used in last weekend’s big North London Derby win, worked only because Wanyama had a huge second half for Spurs, one of the best halves of his Tottenham career. For a large chunk of the first half against Arsenal, the combination of two defensive midfielders in the pivot wasn’t especially effective in progressing the ball through the midfield.

West Ham was a team that was always expected to bunker against a superior opponent, and that’s exactly what they did on Friday. From the opening kick, Spurs were crying out for some creativity from midfield. Wanyama, for all his strengths, doesn’t offer an especially effective passing game, and while Dier has the ability to spray long balls from deep he’s not always the guy you want to rely upon to move the ball from defense to attack.

I also wonder why Pochettino didn’t opt to play a three at the back formation against a West Ham team that had some effectiveness on the counterattack. Doing so would’ve sacrificed an attacker, but it might have been enough for Spurs to at least salvage a draw.

By the time Dembele entered the game Spurs were already down a goal, and Poch’s decision to bring him in for Jan Vertonghen and pair him with Wanyama in the midfield was puzzling. Spurs had a few chances, but were chasing the game at that point and weren’t able to convert.

I’m not ready to lay the loss solely on Pochettino’s feet — nobody played especially well. There also could have been other reasons, such as Dembele being slow to recover from the knock he picked up a couple of weeks ago, for Poch to keep him on the bench to start the match.

Still, we have seen time and time again how important Dembele is to this Tottenham Hotspur team and the way they play. He may not be Tottenham’s best player, but he’s absolutely one of the most important players on the team, and a key reason why Spurs have had one of their best seasons since the 1960s. It seems like at least some of the ineffectiveness of Spurs’ play against the Hammers could have been mitigated by playing Dembele from the opening kick.