This article was written in March 2020.
Dele is still only 23 years old, turning 24 next month. This season he has 7 goals and 4 assists in the league, mainly playing as a number 10. He’s contributed to 0.55 expected goals and assists per 90. Only Son has contributed more for Spurs this season.
From 2015 to 2018, Dele was a revelation and a key part of Pochettino’s Spurs that finished 3rd, 2nd and 3rd in the Premier League with Dele scoring 37 and assisting 26 over those three season despite being so young.
As Spurs have declined, and struggled to replace the midfield of Wanyama and Dembele which was so successful in those seasons, Dele has too. He’s now a controversial player that people have very mixed opinions on. Hence, resulting in tweets like the one at the start of this article which prompted me to write this.
In 2018/19 he played a much deeper role very often due to lack of depth in the midfield and still produced a decent goal contribution record for a central midfielder. He became less popular among fans as his impact on the game in attack lessened although he became a very effective presser of the ball, which he always has been but now in deeper areas.
Dele is an all rounder who is passionate, young and intelligent. Watching him, he can do everything, but at the same time it’s hard to pin him into a specific role or profile. I think that he is a difficult player for managers and needs to be a key component of game plans, rather than squeezing him into a coach’s usual tactics. I’m not saying you should build a team around him, but I think that tactically you can do some interesting things using Dele but need to make sure that you’re getting the best from him.
StatsBomb collect pressure data and Dele comes out well and suits a pressing system. In my recent article I mentioned how Mourinho supposedly has a new philosophy and in the age of modern football where possession and pressing are king that’s what you’d expect. But so far, although Spurs have been propelled up the table, we haven’t seen much good football. Although, the performance against Spurs had some promise even if the result was poor.
Mourinho attacks are direct and come from individual improvisation and combinations, rather than structured game plans and positional play. Son, Kane, Bergwijn, Lo Celso and Dele are all exciting players who can carry in the final third and score goals.
Dele is often compared to Thomas Müller and being able to play a raumdeuter role, which translates as ‘space investigator’. He’s a smart player who pops up in the right place at the right time. He’s great at late runs into the box and strong in the air. He’s often dangerous with back post headers, drifting into the box unmarked.
I watched his first 20 goals for Spurs, all coming in the 2016/17 season and made this, it’s not technical with very little thought put into it, but so often he is just in the right place at the right time in the box and makes lethal late runs to beat unsuspecting defenders and is able to find space with ease. Green means that he did the title action well for that goal.
With Kane and Son injured, we’re forced to find someone else to score goals and fill the striker role. Dele has the attributes to do it and was unlucky not to score against Wolves with 0.87 expected goals, which is very impressive. It was his shot that rebounded to Bergwijn for the first goal.
Dele’s goals come from clever movement and positioning but it’s not how a striker moves, he’s a great second striker and excels behind another strong forward (Kane) where he can make late runs into the box to meet crosses and cut backs. That’s why a 4–2–3–1 makes so much sense for any system using Dele, which has usually been Mourinho’s preferred formation. Dele’s versatility means you can fit him into different systems and formations but doesn’t always mean you’re getting him at his best. He can play on the wing or up front, but it doesn’t allow him to do what he’s most known for in attack even though he’ll press well.
My last article was called ‘Spurs’ midifeld dilemmas’, and to be honest I hardly mention Dele. I think using him as a 10 makes the most sense but with Ndombele and Lo Celso also as options you have to drop one of them realistically unless you force Dele or GLC onto the wing, but then you drop Bergwijn. This assumes everyone is fit and Kane and Son are back in their starting spots.
What I’m getting at is that Dele is a very good young player who is quite unique. That’s also pretty much how I described Ndombele in my last article. But it’s true and there’s no clear solution to team selection for Mourinho’s Spurs. Somewhat of an overhaul is needed with ideally four or five signings in summer while getting rid of some deadwood. I think it’s important to get the best out of Dele. But without Kane and Son, Mourinho is being forced to find short term solutions and fit players into some unfamiliar roles, adapting game to game rather than being able to have a solid plan to stick to.
Dele may have a tough rest of the season and be a scapegoat at times if he can’t pick up a few more goals but come next season I think it’s crucial Dele’s role is carefully thought about and he’s utilised correctly.
I’ve also spoken before about using Kanté and Ndombele and I think that all three are fairly unique players that if you aren’t utilising to get the best out of them they’re not worth having. This is true for every player, I’ve spoken before about how Newcastle misuse Joelinton as well, but I think these certain players are world class when utilised but just ‘good’ otherwise and if you don’t use them to their full potential it’s almost not worth having them.
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