I have been waiting to write this post since the start of the season, Dembele’s great performance versus Norwich on Saturday prompted me.
Dembélé before the international break
Much has been made of Mousa Dembélé’s sub-par performances. Or what appear, superficially, to be sub-par performances.
Anyone that follows me on Twitter knows that I have been somewhat bemused by Dembélé’s superficial sub-par performances.
It appears Dembélé has regressed.
I don’t subscribe to that in the normal sense of the word; “Regress”
When somebody says that a player has regressed, I immediately associate a drop in performance level. Dembele’s performance output has dropped but his performance level hasn’t dropped.
Let me explain.
A player’s output in a game is based off of two (main) variables, the level of performance and the level of involvement.
This way players who are highly involved in a team’s attack and/or defense looks better than a player who isn’t. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the player is at a higher level of performance. At a very fundamental level, Townsend was involved in Tottenham’s attack very sparingly last season. This season he is involved and his output has increased greatly but his performance level hasn’t increased proportionately.
The theory holds true for lots of players. The example most familiar to Tottenham fans is Clint Dempsey. Every attack Fulham had in 11/12 went through Dempsey. He was the core of the attack. When he joined Tottenham has was at the periphery of the attack. This theory can be applied to Gareth Bale, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Aaron Lennon (United at the Lane, he was the core of the attack and went HAM), Adebayor and, finally, Mousa Dembélé.
So has Mousa Dembéle regressed or is he just less involved?
At a very simple level, player involvement is how long you spend with the ball at your feet. Lloris spends very little time with the ball at his feet, he is little involved. Walker spends a lot of time with the ball at his feet, he is involved.
Everyone will agree he was ‘sub-par’ versus both Swansea and Crystal Palace (Arsenal are omitted because everyone was horrendously, awfully, laughably bad, which will taint his stats). Tottenham completed 381 passes versus Swansea. Mousa received 34. 9% of our passes.
Against Crystal Palace, Tottenham completed 434 passes, Mousa was received 27 passes in 57 minutes. Hypothetically, that would be 43 passes Dembele received 10% of our completed passes.
On the surface an average of 9.5% involvement seems OK for a team of eleven but consider that the CM’s are the players most involved in both a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3 and that we dominated totally but had little penetration meaning the ball was often in the middle third of the field.
To contrast Étienne Capoue was involved in 57 passes against Swansea and 19 in 33 minutes against Crystal Palace or a hypothetical 51 passes.
In a random game I chose (Tottenham versus Everton at the Lane) Dembele received 12% of Tottenham’s passes in a game where he was subbed off after 75 minutes, Hypothetically, if Dembélé stayed on, he’d have received 14.4% of our total passes.
In another random game, Swansea at the Lane, a game very similar to yesterday’s game in that we totally dominated, he received 18% of Tottenham’s total passe.
In the finally game chosen at random, Reading at the Lane, Mousa received 76 passes out of 544, a total of 14%.
The mean of these percentages in 15% compared to 9.5%.
It might seem like a nominal difference but it’s not. Over the course of a game, it equates to being involved in 3 minutes more of the time your team has the ball.
Dembélé after the international break
Dembéle was much more involved in the game against Norwich. Tottenham completed 563 passes and Mousa received 72 of these. A percentage of 14. He’s not far off the mean for last season and it showed yesterday. Norwich threaten with a few swift counter attacks and Dembele was there to stop them all. Dembele is near his best once again.
Mousa Dembéle hadn’t regressed, he was just less involved than last season.
To answer my own question, The Moose isn’t wading in deep water, he’s parting the red sea.
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