Mousa Dembele has become an irreplaceable player for Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino, evidenced by the high level he has displayed this month in the Premier League and Champions League.
The Argentine coach first described the brawny Belgian as a "genius" after the north London derby triumph in 2016, and it's safe to say a year on, probably a fair assessment. Spurs again trumped Arsenal earlier this month in a masterclass at Wembley and Pochettino reiterated the point: "I told you many times. For me, he is a genius."
The 30-year-old midfielder elevated his game to further heights again; as he dominated in Turin with the world's eyes on him. He optimized his outfit's unwavering mentality as they fought to overturn a 2-0 goal advantage against Italian champions Juventus - scoring two away goals against a side that had conceded one in 16 prior to the game.
Nobody could get close to the ex-Fulham man, as his sheer physicality and balance was just too much for the likes of Miralem Pjanic and Claudio Marchisio to deal with. No Juve player managed more than 10 passes in Spurs' half... Dembele registered 73.
His blend of formidable strength and dribbling ability is simply unmatched, and as a result opposition players are dumbfounded when pitted against the veteran midfielder. He is both a midfield enforcer and a ball-carrying maestro; which is proved by his ridiculous numbers for both dribbles and tackles over the last three seasons.
It's not just volume. It's the frightening success rate. Of Premier League midfielders who have attempted more than 40 dribbles this term, Dembele is miles clear at the pinnacle. He has evaded the challenge of his opponent a staggering 88% of the time, highlighting his sheer quality in possession.
|Midfield Player||Dribbles Attempted||Success Rate|
If those numbers weren't impressive enough alone, Dembele's vision at the end of these dribbles is equally remarkable. His pass completion rate in the opposition half is far superior to any other midfielder in the league - boasting the stand alone accolade of having over 90% - with second place belonging to Fernandinho on 88%.
|Midfield Player||Opposition Half Passes||Success Rate|
Pochettino has gone as far as to liken Dembele to the likes of Diego Maradona and Brazilian magician Ronaldinho - having shared a dressing room with both - in terms of his extraordinary ability, and rates the Belgian as one of the finest players he has ever had the pleasure of working with.
Dembele originally began his career as a forward, having idolized Dutch legend Patrick Kluivert from a young age and he followed in his footsteps by winning the Eredivisie; scoring 10 goals in 23 games in ex-United boss Louis van Gaal's 2009 AZ Alkmaar squad.
It was only under the tutelage of a fellow Dutchman in Martin Jol that he would eventually be adapted to play in midfield. Jol instantly recognized the immense potential the player possessed describing him as "the best on the ball" he'd ever seen, at the age of just 24.
The only concern for current manager Pochettino is over the player's fitness, as he is equally important to the side as superstar talisman Kane.
"We must be careful about his fitness," Pochettino warned earlier this month. Dembele had suffered an ankle injury in pre-season and faced a long stretch on the sidelines. It's thanks to serious work from the sports science department at Spurs that the player has returned so well conditioned and has instantly hit the ground running.
February's games have highlighted - for anyone who wasn't already aware - that Dembele is quite literally irreplaceable to Spurs. And that's not financially, because lets face it, he'd go for quite a bit in today's market. It's simply because at the moment, no midfielder out there plays the same game as Mousa Dembele.