How Pochettino turned Tottenham into title contenders... Part 5: The Dembele transformation

With Tottenham two points off top, HITC Sport looks at their transformation in a five-part series...

Over the last few months, the trajectory of Mousa Dembele's Tottenham Hotspur career has completely turned around.

Much like the club themselves have morphed from also-rans into a team that looks set for Champions League football next season, the 28-year-old has gone from a midfielder who played just over 1,000 minutes of Premier League football last season to one who has been absolutely indispensable this campaign.

It could have been much different for Tottenham, of course, had Mauricio Pochettino decided Dembele was no longer required in north London.

That was the fate that befell Etienne Capoue, Paulinho and Benjamin Stambouli. The latter, in particular, wasn't given a fair chance in the opinion of many - could that have been Dembele?

In the event, it wasn't. And the Belgian has made huge leaps forward this time around, finally realising some of the potential he's shown for years and dominating for Pochettino's men in the middle of the park.

So impressive has the Tottenham man been this term, he's drawn praise from Arsenal icon Ian Wright - who doesn't speak well of anyone across north London if he can help it.

Discussing the Belgian, he told BBC Radio Five Live earlier this season: "I was watching Dembele today and when you look into that midfield, he is a monster in there. He's so big and so strong and you have to take into account his physicality."

The series so far...

Part 1: The Dier masterstroke

Part 2: The £11.5m bargain

Part 3: The wonderkid

Part: 4: The goalscorer

But the Spurs midfielder was nowhere near this influential last season. His talent has never been questioned but his consistency has (even in the early stages of the current campaign).

Last term, injuries curtailed Dembele's progress and his future at White Hart Lane was questioned. Did Pochettino have a problem with him? Did he not see enough from the midfielder in training?

Thankfully, Tottenham's summer clearout didn't involve the fan favourite and, with Stambouli, Capoue and Paulinho gone, there was more room for Dembele to make his mark.

Pochettino, meanwhile, mended bridges with the Belgian. And he was vindicated in keeping hold of the right man, eventually - when his fitness allowed - giving him a big role within the starting XI.

 2015/16 Premier League TacklesInterceptionsChances CreatedDribblesAccurate PassesGames
Mousa Dembele 63 42 18 55 870 21
Kyle Walker 47 59 17 10 696 22
Eric Dier 40 58 9 5 1,141 25
Dele Alli 39 50 32 22 618 24
Christian Eriksen 26 17 78 24 919 23
Harry Kane 19 13 31 36 502 26

Opta stats demonstrate Dembele's exact role within this Tottenham side. The Belgian is a midfield controller - a powerhouse.

No Spurs star has won more tackles than the 28-year-old, with the same applying to his dribbling. Dembele is a unique midfielder: strong and imposing but someone who glides forward with the ball - almost ostrich-like.

At the same time, Dembele has not created too many chances, generally staying back like Eric Dier. All Tottenham supporters will know when the Belgian does burst forward, though, as - more often than not - a goal is scored.

After the north London side's 2-1 win over Manchester City, the Belgian was asked for the reason behind his improvement this season by Sky Sports. His answer was simple: "I’m happy. I’m happy the team is doing well. The team is doing working so hard and it’s easy to play in a team like this."

The Dembele transformation is the biggest example of Pochettino's man management. There has been good recruitment (Toby Alderweireld, Dele Alli) and tactical thinking (Mr Dier). But, here, it's simply been a case of taking a brilliant footballer and making him want to produce his best.

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