Luka Modrić left Tottenham last summer for £33 million to Real Madrid. During the 2011/12 season, most avid Premier League watchers would agree that Modrić was one of the best, if not the best, passers in the game. His ability to spread the ball not only allowed him to pass the ball a total of 2,534 times, which is impressive enough, but also the fact that his completion rate was an astounding 87%. He mostly operated in a deep lying midfielder role and didn’t bag very many goals.
Moussa Dembélé was brought in to be the replacement for Modrić. His move from Fulham cost Tottenham £15 million. Dembélé was bought by Fulham as an attacking midfielder, but later in his Fulham career became a deep-lying midfielder like Modrić.
This switch of personnel seems to have changed Tottenham’s style of play. Unlike Modrić who liked to press tight to the box, Dembélé prefers to linger back and orchestrate from a distance. His languid style is a stark contrast from Modrić who seemed frantic in his pursuit of the ball. Modrić’s habit of pressuring a team outside their box meant that for the other attackers it was hard to find space to burst into and get a shot away. However, Dembélé has a habit of being slightly behind play so that there is room for teammates to run into when they receive the ball.
Sandro, Dembélé’s midfield partner, compliments Dembélé’s style perfectly as he looks to get forward and strike from long range. Sandro’s bursts forward draws defenders and allows Dembélé to drop into a pocket of space right on the edge of the box. This interchanging of the midfielders allows Tottenham to switch the focal point of the attack quickly and distribute the ball to Bale and Lennon.
Though, Dembélé sits back at times, that doesn’t mean he lacks the creativity to go forward. With one simple drop of the shoulder he can shrug off most defenders. This forward run is complimented nicely by his ability to retain possession in tight spaces. Most Tottenham fans would agree that he seems apprehensive to shoot and instead passes the ball off to a teammate. Nevertheless, like Modrić, he is graced with moments of brilliance in front of goal. This was demonstrated in his first game for Tottenham against Norwich when he slotted home a wonderful strike passed John Ruddy into the bottom right hand corner. Unlike Modrić, he started as a striker for AZ Alkmaar which means that he has a potential to become a major contributor to the goal tally.
Possibly the most notable change Dembélé brings with him is that fact that his defensive work rate is just as high as his attacking work rate. His ability to make a tackle has created a strong spine for the Tottenham midfield. His positional awareness is impressive as he is able to intercept balls and break up attacks. This also allows him to start counter attacks quickly and with the pace Tottenham possess on their wings, this can be devastating for opposing teams.
Though, Dembélé and Modrić have different qualities they both have had major effects on Tottenham. Like Modrić when Dembélé was absent from the side Tottenham look short of ideas and relied on individual brilliance rather than teamwork. One thing Tottenham fans learned with Modrić is that these midfield talents are hard to come by and selling them has drastic effects on the team.
If Tottenham want to continue their push to permanently establish themselves in top four they must not let Dembélé go.