Tottenham Hotspur grabbed an important late victory over Cardiff City on Sunday evening, with a cheeky backheel from Brazilian midfielder Paulinho. Spurs lined up with the same team that faced Norwich City a week earlier in a 4231 formation, while Cardiff City lined up in a 433/451 formation, depending on how you look at it.
While it may have been a late winner, Spurs completely controlled the game, as shown below in the statistics for the game: Spurs had 63.7% of the possession, made 513 passes, of which 417 were accurate, played 170 final third passes, compared to Cardiff’s 48; Spurs created (19) open play chances, compared to Cardiff’s (5).
Spurs had much of the ball, but had to rely on an athletic and dynamic midfield duo of Paulinho and Mousa Dembele to get the ball to the flanks – to the creative component in the Spurs team: Christian Eriksen.
While Paulinho may have grabbed the headlines for the goal, his midfield partner Mousa Dembele’s performance went under the radar.
Before the introduction of Christian Eriksen to the Spurs team, Andre Villas-Boas predominantly played a 433 formation, with Etienne Capoue shielding the back four, and Paulinho and Mousa Dembele supporting in both attack and defence. This didn’t really work in terms of tactics; they both did the same job, but with Paulinho bursting late into the box (which could have worked in the home game versus Swansea City in August).
The injury to Etienne Capoue at Arsenal left Villas-Boas with no option but to make a tactical switch back to 4231, but with most Spurs fans thinking Dembele would be dropped for Sandro.
Paulinho and Mousa Dembele have played in both games since the Arsenal loss, with Dembele playing in the deeper midfield role and Paulinho the box-to-box element of the midfield.
With Paulinho pushing on, Dembele is now in his element, and he can focus on one element of his game during different periods of the match.
His defensive stats on Sunday versus Cardiff City show he can do the defensive job, if needed; he is strong on the ball, has a footballing brain, and can take on players when required.
While he isn’t at the level of Sandro and Etienne Capoue, he can do a job in the defensive midfield position, as shown above with a total of (3) tackles and a 66.7% success rate. He wins 67% of his ground 50-50s and 3/5 of his aerial duels with (1) interception.
Passing & Attacking
Mousa Dembele was instrumental all over the pitch against Cardiff City, shown above via the Stats Zone app – receiving the ball (39 times) all over the pitch.
Dembele completed 47/51 passes – a 92% pass completion. Dembele completed 16 attacking third passes, with just 3 defensive third passes. Of Dembele’s passes, (45) were played short, (16) were played forward, (12) were played backward and (19) were played square – although that is a quite a lot, at times it was hard for Spurs to break through a deep Cardiff City defence.
The Spurs midfielder created (2) chances in open play.
Mousa Dembele has always been comfortable with the ball at his feet, and enjoys taking on his man. This was shown throughout the game as he completed 5/6 take ons.
If Andre Villas-Boas continues to use Dembele and Paulinho as his midfield two, it will prove to be an athletic and dynamic duo, with Dembele focusing on the defensive side of midfield, while Paulinho concentrates on his role on as the box-to-box midfielder, helping his team in both defence and attack.
Although, if Dembele is going to be the main defensive outlet in midfield, he will need to improve his reading of the game and his tackle success rate, if he can do that, he could dislodge Etienne Capoue and Sandro as the defensive component.