Mousa Dembele has never before had to spend so much time on the bench – a lack of regular football which is taking its toll on the Tottenham midfielder.
The 27-year-old has been a regular starter ever since breaking through at Germinal Beerschot, enjoying similarly-important roles at Willem II, AZ Alkmaar and then Fulham.
Dembele’s fine form at Craven Cottage, where Martin Jol helped transform the forward into an accomplished midfielder, saw Spurs come calling two years ago, paying the B#15million release clause.
The Belgium international impressed in his first season but has gradually slipped down the pecking order at White Hart Lane and this has started just two Premier League matches this term.
“I haven’t played that much,” Dembele said. “I have played some good games but it’s different from in the past.
“Before I played every week and maybe, I won’t say easier, but if you play a lot you feel physically stronger.
“We train a lot, I take my games and I have to take my chances. Hopefully in the future I will play a lot more and get physically stronger.
“It’s the first time in my career that this has happened a bit. It’s something new and I need to think about it a lot.
“It’s important to be ready all the time but it’s a new thing for me.”
Given Dembele is one of a host of midfield options at Tottenham’s disposal, he may well find himself back on the bench when Stoke arrive on Sunday.
Spurs return to league action off the back of a successful trip to Greece, where the Belgian started the Europa League defeat of Asteras Tripolis.
The result leaves Mauricio Pochettino’s side on the brink of the Europa League knock-out stages, although their woeful second-half display overshadowed the victory.
It is the kind of drop-off Dembele hinted was down to complacency rather than a sign England coach Gary Neville may be right in his suggestion that Spurs are “mentally weak”.
“Of course I think we’re not weak but I didn’t hear this,” Dembele said. “I think we think differently about this.
“Every team has some weaknesses and we have our own things to think about, like against Asteras.
“We need to be ready quicker, from the first minute. We did it in the first half and then the second half we didn’t expect them to come at us.
“We were too relaxed and this cannot happen again. We need to speak about it.”
That flaky defensive display coupled with Spurs’ habit of struggling after Europa League games will buoy Sunday’s opponents Stoke.
The Potters have had a frustrating start to the campaign but Dembele believes things will improve under manger Mark Hughes, who he played under at Fulham.
“For me he was a very good manager,” he said. “He believed a lot in me and gave me a lot of confidence so for me I had a good experience with him and he helped me a lot.
“It was my first year in the Premier League and he spoke a lot with me.
“Maybe the most important thing was the confidence he gave me. how he spoke with me and he made me important in the team. It made me feel very important and that’s a big thing.”
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