08 May, 2018

Replacing Mousa Dembélé

08 May, 2018

If reports are to be believed, it looks like Tottenham will allow Mousa Dembélé to leave in the summer.

The central midfielder has been repeatedly referred to as a “genius” by Mauricio Pochettino, who is evidently a fan of the dynamic midfielder’s ability to single-handedly transition from defence to attack with his dribbling ability. Dembélé is almost unrivalled in his position when it comes to the danger that he brings to his team through his dribbles:

Dembélé’s relatively unique combination of defensive contribution, dribbling ability, and incisive short passing make him perfect for a central midfield role in a high-intensity pressing system.

TransferLab is based on a complex expected goals model that rewards or penalises every action on a football pitch based on its effect on the team’s likelihood of scoring. The Value displayed for each metric, if it has ‘xG’ in it, is a player’s xG added or detracted through that action per 90 minutes. ‘xP rating’ is the ratio between actual passes completed and expected passes completed based on their difficulty. The percentiles are calculated relative to other players in the same position.

Nonetheless, he will turn 31 in July, and so not tying him down on a likely expensive 3-4 year deal is probably the smartest move for Tottenham to make here. It gives them a chance to bring a player approaching his peak in, rather than one getting further and further away from it.

Using TransferLab, let’s construct a shortlist of players who might fit the bill. The parameters are clear: a centre-midfielder with dribbling ability, defensive contribution, and who is a confident short-passer, who is under 25. We’ll also restrict the search for players who play in one of Europe’s Big 5 competitions, or the Eredivisie which Tottenham often buy from, and to those who have played more than 750 minutes in the last two seasons.

Within the TransferLab UI, it is easy to scout for these traits and weight their respective importance – these characteristics will be marked as 3 stars (ie very important), while others which are relevant for central midfielders but perhaps not a decisive feature when it comes to a Dembélé replacement can also be included. The players are given a score for their suitability across the metrics chosen:

It is no surprise to see Paul Pogba and Naby Keita come up as the two highest ranked possibilities here. Both are uniquely gifted all-round central midfielders, the latter of which is moving to Liverpool in the summer, who are tactically similar to Tottenham in many ways. Dani Ceballos recently moved to Real Madrid, but has had little luck when it comes to playing time in Zidane’s team of Galacticos.

One player surfaced by our search who most probably won’t have heard of yet but could be an ideal candidate is Tanguy NDombele of Olympique Lyon. His overall profile is extremely similar to Dembélé’s, especially his dribbling which is his stand-out feature. At just 21, he is likely to be one that many big European clubs will be having a closer look at over the coming months.

Another interesting finding here, though, is TransferLab’s highlighting of the potential for Tottenham to not replace Dembélé at all due to the possibility of Harry Winks stepping up and having a more prominent role. The Englishman dribbles slightly less, but has a greater passing range while being similarly involved in terms of defensive contribution.

While it is likely that Tottenham will need an extra midfielder to flesh out their squad, it may be that the main aspects of Dembélé‘s “genius” that are so valuable to them could be replicated by Winks, allowing them to search for a central midfielder of a different profile.

This exercise hopefully makes it clear how easily TransferLab can be used to generate a shortlist for a club’s scouts. Rather than prescribing uniform ratings, it allows each club to create their own profiles and search for players that meet their stylistic profile.

Analytics FC provides software and data services to entities within football looking to realise the gains possible from analytical thinking. Through a product development collaboration with Lane Clark and Peacock LLP, we provide cutting-edge software solutions such as TransferLab, which helps improve and simplify recruitment decisions. To find out more about TransferLab, or to find out more about us, get in touch.