When Luka Modric made his long awaited and fully expected departure for the riches of Real Madrid in the summer, the little man left a gaping hole in the heart of Tottenham's midfield. The Croatian midfielder had proven his worth to one of the biggest clubs in the world through his performances for Spurs, dictating the pace of games from his central berth, always the man that Spurs would look to for that killer pass.
Many, including new manager André Villas-Boas considered Porto midfielder João Moutinho as the ideal replacement for Modric; a ball-playing but also a ball-winning central midfielder, who had inspired Villas-Boas' Porto side to an historic treble in his first season there. However, with the north London club priced out of any transfer involving the Portugal international, a vast amount of pressure was duly passed on to one of Tottenham's signings that did go through.
When Mousa Dembélé first came to the Premier League, he was a significantly more attack-minded player than he is now, and would often play off Bobby Zamora during his early days at Fulham. He has since, though, established himself as a central midfielder, capable of breaking up play and driving attacks forward from deeper positions. An incredibly impressive season in this role at Craven Cottage earned the Belgian a £15m move across London to Tottenham.
At Spurs, he has shone from the off, coming off the bench for his debut and scoring not long after appearing in that game against Norwich. He quickly became an integral part of the Spurs line up, as without him now, they seem to lack a great deal of attacking impetus through central parts of the field.
Against Wigan, the starting central trio in midfield were Sandro (30), Huddlestone (6) and Dempsey (2). The average player positions of those three are not all that surprising - all three remained fairly central - while Jermain Defoe (18) was forced to drop deep in search of the ball, taking up a place on the left with some regularity. Gareth Bale (11), meanwhile, in the absence of much creativity from the middle, took it upon himself to move into central positions and try to conjure up some magic of his own.
In the Fulham game, on the other hand, Dembélé's presence (19) in place of Tom Huddlestone had some striking consequences. Whilst Dembélé's average position was rather similar to Huddlestone's, the Belgian can run with the ball, driving at defences, thus encouraging the likes of Defoe to stay central and look for balls to be played through or in behind the opposition defence for him to run on to. Also of note, is that Bale stuck to his left-sided position much more than against Wigan, with Dembélé running things centrally and Bale able to keep to what he's best at.
Furthermore, Spurs won by three clear goals at Fulham, handing the Cottagers their biggest home defeat of the season, while they lost at home to Wigan, in a game they would have expected to win. Dembélé's presence in the win was no coincidence.
Dembélé has featured in exactly half of Spurs' 22 competitive games this season, and the difference in their results with him compared to without him is quite astounding. They have won 7 of the 11 he has played in and drawn the rest, while without him, they have won only 3 out of 11, losing on 6 occasions. The change in the goals their games have seen is vast as well, with his side scoring an average of 1.82 goals per game when he has featured, compared to 1.55 without him, while Spurs have conceded 0.73 goals per game in matches with Dembélé playing a part, compared to 1.82 without him.
While he cannot be solely responsible for such large discrepancies, he certainly improves the team both on the attack and defensively, and he has become a key component of AVB's Tottenham machine. His 3.7 tackles per game is the 7th most of players to have made more than one appearance in the Premier League this season, and what is more, of the 26 players to average more than 3 tackles per game, Dembélé comes away from those tackles with possession of the ball most often; 86.5% of the time. Additionally, despite only making 10 league appearances this season, only 8 players have dribbled past opposing players more times than the Belgian, who has done so 27 times.
At Spurs, he is on the ball more often than most, with only full-backs Assou-Ekotto (81.7), Vertonghen (74) and Walker (68.5) averaging more touches per game than Dembélé (59.6), further highlighting Spurs' reliance on wide areas of the pitch, when more impetus is needed in the middle.
He has already topped his assist tally in the Premier League from last season, with 3 so far this term, leaving him joint top of those charts at Tottenham. He needs to add more goals to his game, but those could well come with a decent run in the team without the disruption injury causes.
Manchester United fans may well be cursing the powers that be at their club for not doing more to sign Dembélé when they had the chance, particularly given his two outstanding performances at Old Trafford already this season, and Spurs fans should certainly be grateful they have him. Eventually Dembélé will taste defeat in a Tottenham shirt, but if he keeps up the form he has shown since his summer move, he may be able to keep his impressive run going.