The centre of our midfield could look very different at the start of next season. Mousa Dembele is being tipped to move to China, while the club has been linked with a number of different central midfield players over the past couple of months.
The likes of Bryan Cristante, Andre Gomes, Ruben Neves, Bruno Fernandes, Amadou Diawara and Mateo Kovacic have all been mentioned as options. It isn’t just a replacement for Mousa that we may be after though. Victor Wanyama’s early season problems with injury have meant he only recovered his place in the side very late on in the season, while Eric Dier’s form in recent months has been nothing to write home about.
We do have promising players like Harry Winks who could add an extra option following his recovery from an ankle injury, but from the long list of holding midfielder players/central midfielders that are being linked, it does suggest that Mauricio Pochettino is considering an overhaul in the middle of the park.
Especially if we lose Dembele, this area of the pitch may need major surgery. The Belgian is a unique player, good at interceptions, able to turn on a sixpence and dribble with the ball out of trouble. You will very rarely find all of these attributes in one player so a direct replacement is likely to be out of the question.
Reshaping the midfield without Poch’s “genius” will mean changing the dynamic as well. For the most part this season, when Mousa has been fit, we have had one traditional holder (usually Dier) playing alongside him. The Belgian international can be utilised both as a ball-carrier but also as a second DM out of possession. The six names that we have been linked with above can’t do both roles.
Diawara and Kovacic are more traditional defensive midfielders, and although they are capable in possession, they are nowhere near our no.19’s level. In contrast Cristante, Gomes and Fernandes are far better going forward than defensively, while Neves plays more as a deep-lying playmaker.
For me, if Dembele does leave, his replacement has to be the club’s number one priority, and it will be interesting to see which way Pochettino goes to fill his role.