Will Eric Dier Keep His Spot as Spurs’ Defensive Midfielder?

Jul 28, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Tottenham Hotspur defender Eric Dier (15) during training in advance of the 2015 MLS All Star Game at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 28, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Tottenham Hotspur defender Eric Dier (15) during training in advance of the 2015 MLS All Star Game at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

Eric Dier has been one of Spurs’ best players this season.

Through the first seven games of the 2015-16 Premier League season, six which have come during league play and the other during the Europa League, Spurs have found themselves in a conundrum. How much longer should Eric Dier be playing as the team’s defensive midfielder? Additionally, if Tottenham manages to find a “true” holding mid — someone who actually plays the defensive midfield position, rather than playing out of position and out of necessity — should Mauricio Pochettino drop the English Under-21 international from his starting eleven?

When the transfer window was nearing deadline day, this was one major position that the Spurs’ chairman and manager (Daniel Levy and Mauricio Pochettino, respectively) needed to address. Simply, for the sole reason that Tottenham’s former defensive midfielders were jettisoned for not making an impact. Much to the chagrin of Benjamin Stambouli (now with Paris Saint-Germain) and Étienne Capoue (now with Watford) who weren’t given many opportunities in the first place. This caused concern, and rightfully so, because this position was considered to be a glaring hole leading up to Tottenham’s season opener against Manchester United.

Fast forward to now, and surprisingly this dire need (pun intended) for a defensive midfielder has now been solved after a month-and-a-half of the season complete. Although Spurs suffered through a winless August — three draws and one loss — this didn’t deter Mauricio Pochettino and the squad. The team continued to work hard and had an improved September: three consecutive wins (at Sunderland, vs Qarabağ FK, vs Crystal Palace) in both the Premier and Europa Leagues.

A result of the team’s continued form was due to Eric Dier, the team’s 21-year-old center-back by trade, turned defensive midfielder and part-time right-back. Tottenham’s Swiss-army knife, if you will.

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Last season, Dier played as one of the team’s center-backs who worked alongside incumbent starter, Jan Vertonghen, in what was a revolving door of sorts. He would later end the 2014-15 season as Kyle Walker’s replacement at right-back due to Walker suffering a season-ending injury. Now, for these past seven games this season, Eric Dier is the team’s starting defensive midfielder.

At first, Mauricio Pochettino could be forgiven for trying to fill this spot with someone who could do a good job after Nabil Bentaleb’s decreasing form. Miscues in back-to-back games against Manchester United (a misplaced pass that led to a Kyle Walker own goal and not particularly playing well before and after that mistake) and versus Stoke City (not a good shift as a second half substitute in place of Ryan Mason). Sadly, Bentaleb is now injured and has yet to return. So, by default, this is Eric Dier’s position to lose and it doesn’t look like that’ll happen anytime soon — or for the rest of the season if no one is signed this winter.

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Based on WhoScored’s statistics, Eric Dier is one of the Premier League’s best defender. In terms of tackles per game, Dier is ranked 8th out of 100, contributing to 4.2 tackles per game when strictly looking at defenders who have made more than three appearances in the Premier League this season only. His total attempted tackles per game is 4.8, which ranks him at 14th out of 100 defenders. Eric Dier is Tottenham’s best defender and his five total tackle attempts per game, includes him winning four out of his five total tackles. That is an 80% success rate.

This makes it even more unlikely that Pochettino decides to drop him from the starting eleven unless it’s solely for rest rather than a new signing.

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While it would be good for Eric Dier to potentially learn from a more seasoned veteran, which could also help the team closeout games by not giving away possession unnecessarily.

What Eric Dier brings to the team currently, is some sort of an aggression based on statistics and the eye test alone. This could prove beneficial. He’s constantly involving himself in 1v1 duels and trying to get the ball back after the team loses possession. Since Spurs are a young team, this kind of presence at the heart of defense, means that Tottenham won’t go down without a fight.

Games against Qarabağ FK and Crystal Palace showed that the team is winning back possession and continuing their high-press counterattacking brand of football. Eric Dier is in the middle of all of these tackles that Spurs are winning. It has forced opponents to go into a defensive shell, almost like parking the bus, a tactic which is used to help stop offenses from scoring but doesn’t leave them many options to advance further up the pitch to score in the process. Hence, why Spurs have out gained both Qarabağ and Palace in possession and maintained a consistent pressure to try and score goals, or at least put shots on target.

So far, Tottenham’s form is continuing to improve more as the season progresses and a part of that is because of Eric Dier’s play as the team’s defensive midfielder. As of right now, there should be no reason why the English international is dropped for a better player, since there’s no one on the current 25-man squad who could do a better job. This winter transfer window, in January, that might change but right now Eric Dier has provided a solution to what was once considered a problem.

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