Player Focus: Moussa Dembele (Fulham)
The WhoScored Premier League player ratings leaderboard is littered with talent from the top 6, with United and City unsurprisingly dominating, with 8 of the top 13 representing the title challengers. However, rather than look into the performances of these players we have decided to analyse an individual who has enjoyed a great season in the shadow of a teammate.
While Fulham's Clint Dempsey is the top rated player from outside the European positions (14th) with a rating of 7.22 having struck 16 goals from midfield this season, Moussa Dembele's average of 7.12 is not far behind (21st), with West Brom's James Morrison the only other player from outside the 'bigger clubs' in the top 20.
Of the players to rank above the Belgian only Gareth Bale, Sergio Aguero and Juan Mata are younger than the 24-year-old, and Dembele's performances will have caught the eye this term.
His game has adapted since signing from AZ in 2010, seen as a goalscoring midfielder / second striker during his time in Holland. The one area of his game in which the Belgium international, capped 38 times for his country, will be disappointed is his finishing since moving to Fulham. Having struck 3 times in 22 starts for the Cottagers last season, he has managed just the solitary strike in 28 starts already this campaign.
His shots per game figure has dipped slightly from 2 to 1.6, though a total of 50 shots should have brought a significantly higher goal tally this term. In fact, of players to score one goal or fewer this season, only Taarabt, Wright-Phillips and Downing have mustered more efforts at goal.
Dembele's shot accuracy, at 34%, is reasonable if unspectacular but above the likes of Sigurdsson and Sessegnon who play in similar roles at their respective clubs at times and have a 7-goal return in comparison, with the former's coming from just 13 starts for Swansea. His aforementioned accuracy isn't markedly worse than Dempsey's average of just under 40% either, though the American's ability to get into superb goalscoring positions has led him to score 15 more goals in the league alone.
Another area in which the midfielder's contribution appears meagre at first glance lies in his assists column, with just 2 in the league again down on 3 from last season. Again, however, the blame doesn't sit entirely with the Belgian who has only averaged fewer key passes per game than Danny Murphy (1.5 to 2.3) at Fulham.
His teammates apparent inability to finish at times means that of all Premier League players to have registered at least 2 assists, only Baines, Arteta and Larsson have had to create more chances to add to their modest tallies than Dembele's figure of 22.5 key passes per assist. The lack of a regular target man hasn't helped; Of each team's most frequent starter up front, only QPR's Heidar Helguson has started fewer games than Fulham's former forward Bobby Zamora (14 starts), who has since joined the Icelandic international at Loftus Road.
However, the main area in which Dembele has improved dramatically lies in his upper body strength, with two key but ultimately very different facets to his game profiting in kind.
First we look at the 24-year-old's dribbling statistics, with only Victor Moses and David Hoilett having completed more than the Fulham man's 67 this term. The fact that 7 players have attempted to take on an opponent more often than Dembele should hint to a decent success rate, with 60.4% the best of the 10 most frequent dribblers by some distance, with Nathan Dyer the only other player beating his man more than half of the time. In comparison the likes of Suarez and Walcott, who are also both in the top 10, complete 37% and 36% of their dribble attempts respectively.
A physical presence at 6'1", Dembele would certainly rank highly in any statistic for rugby style hand-offs to any player who dare try and tackle him, but in turn his ability to dispossess opponents is perhaps the most marked improvement to his all-round game. Indeed, only Scott Parker (106) and Yohan Cabaye (102) have completed more tackles than the versatile playmaker's 100.
More astonishing, however, is that Dembele's outstanding 87.7% tackle success rate is only bettered by Sandro of Premier League midfielders this season (min. 50 tackles). The likes of the aforementioned Parker and Cabaye, who play far more defence-minded roles for their respective sides, see their success rates pale in comparison with 76% and 73% respectively.
In possession the Belgian has also flourished with his excellent close control leading to just 1.1 turnovers per game due to a poor touch compared to Dempsey's 2.3 and also better than the likes of Modric, Gerrard, Sessegnon and Sigurdsson. A pass accuracy of 87.2% is also spectacular and the best of any Fulham regular including Danny Murphy (83.1%). Said accuracy is 14th of Premier League central midfielders, though of those players perhaps only Modric and van der Vaart play as high up the field as Dembele.
Fulham fans are certainly growing close to their underrated midfielder and they will hope that his eye-catching statistics don't draw too much attention from afar, though one expects that such wishes may go unfulfilled this summer.http://www.whoscored.com/Blog/we-5bk_na0muqayz4lgzzg/Show/