How Mousa Dembele filled Luka Modric's boots in Tottenham's midfield

ZonalMarking.net (opens in new tab)'s Michael Cox (opens in new tab) uses the FREE FourFourTwo/Opta StatsZone app to compare Spurs' new Belgian hero with their former star...

In a fascinating interview with the Daily Mail (opens in new tab) last weekend, Mousa Dembele rejected comparisons with Luka Modric, the central midfielder he effectively replaced at Tottenham in the summer. âÂÂI never saw myself as the replacement for Luka,â said Dembele. âÂÂI feel like IâÂÂm a totally different playerâ¦IâÂÂm very much impressed by him, but heâÂÂs a different kind of style.âÂÂ

In a way, Dembele wasnâÂÂt replacing Modric directly. Andre Villas-Boas taking over from Harry Redknapp meant a significant change in the way Tottenham played, and a different tilt to the midfield zone.

Under Redknapp, Spurs played a slightly old-fashioned British game, using the midfield to spread the ball wide to the wingers, who attacked at speed. Villas-Boas, at least in his early weeks, wanted more verticality from his players, combined with constant rotation of the midfield trio.

As it happens, Spurs have actually returned to a 4-4-2 system in recent weeks, more in line with what Harry Redknapp preferred during his spell at Tottenham. The inconsistent form of Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson, the two men used at the top of the midfield, meant Villas-Boas has turned to a striking partnership of Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor, despite an early setback when Adebayor was dismissed in the first half of the eventual 5-2 defeat at Arsenal.

That has changed DembeleâÂÂs role slightly. In the early days, particularly in TottenhamâÂÂs debut win under Villas-Boas, away at Reading, Dembele was the catalyst for rotation in the centre of the pitch; he could drop deeper than Sandro, or move in advance of Sigurdsson. Now, with only the Brazilian alongside him, TottenhamâÂÂs midfield has a more permanent structure. Sandro sits and holds, while Dembele attacks. In that sense, DembeleâÂÂs role is now more similar to ModricâÂÂs â physically theyâÂÂre entirely different, but on the pitch, theyâÂÂre playing a similar role.

ThereâÂÂs one important exception, of course â DembeleâÂÂs still a thrillingly direct player, able to take on opponents at speed, suddenly providing bursts of pace and dribbling from the centre of the pitch. Modric could beat a man, but not nearly as frequently as Dembele does...

But whatâÂÂs particularly fascinating is DembeleâÂÂs passing ability. For a converted winger or forward, and someone accustomed to taking the ball forward solo, you might expect DembeleâÂÂs distribution to be wayward. Instead, heâÂÂs incredibly reliable when spreading the play wide, as his passes in TottenhamâÂÂs most recent two matches have demonstrated.

His distribution is reminiscent of ModricâÂÂs. Compare two equivalent games from this season and last â home draws against Stoke â and they have more in common than Dembele admits, being left-of-centre and generally sideways.

The clear difference is in accuracy. Modric was always regarded as a reliable passer, but his completion rate was 87.4% last season, whereas Dembele boasts a rate of 91.2% in 2012/13.

Modric is keener to play ambition passes, and creates 2.7 chances per match for teammates, compared to DembeleâÂÂs 2.0, which explains why the CroatianâÂÂs passes more frequently went astray. ItâÂÂs also slightly surprising that Dembele, considering his positional history, attempts just 1.1 shots per game, compared to ModricâÂÂs 2.3. As the Belgian explains in the aforementioned interview, as a kid his playground games didnâÂÂt involve goals â the object was to dribble the ball towards a lamppost, then âÂÂtouchâ the ball against the post. It explains his love of taking on defenders in tight spaces, and his reluctance to pull the trigger.

Still, itâÂÂs highly impressive that Spurs have managed to replace Modric with a midfield that offers similar quality of passing. Dembele can still improve, and contribute more in the final third, but purely in the midfield zone, Spurs havenâÂÂt experienced a dip in quality since ModricâÂÂs departure.

Stats Zone is a free-download app from FourFourTwo powered by stats from Opta, updated LIVE in-play, and pre-loaded with all data from the 2011/12 and 2010/11 Premier League and Champions League. Stats Zone is brought to youin association with FFT's bet partners Coral (opens in new tab)

Download SZ (opens in new tab)⢠Europa League SZ (opens in new tab)â¢Read more about it ⢠More SZ analysis

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1