A few weeks ago I half-jokingly suggested that Tottenham Hotspur play DeAndre Yedlin at right back against Aston Villa. Injuries to Spurs back-line meant Federico Fazio and Eric Dier would partner in central defense, so right back would be a straight choice between Yedlin and Vlad Chiriches. Chiriches started that match and was mostly fine, but Spurs ended up losing 1-0 to Villa.
One option I never considered was swapping the players around so that Dier was playing right back and Chiriches at center back. Why would you move your best center back wide, especially when it meant playing an unfamiliar Chiriches-Fazio pairing in central defense? Besides, Chiriches's pace makes him a more natural fit for the right back position than Dier, so as long as Vlad is needed at all, he should be played from at fullback.
On Saturday against Stoke City, Mauricio Pochettino decided to go through door number two. He started Dier at right back with Chiriches in the middle. This decision backfired horribly and played a large part in Spurs losing the match.
First and foremost, Chiriches was absolutely dreadful as a centerback. Chiriches has struggled to play the position in the Premier League at the best of times, and playing alongside an unfamiliar partner after months of not playing any football at all proved too much for him. He was never in tune with Fazio and was sent off early in the second half after picking up two ludicrously dumb yellow cards.
Equally problematic for Spurs but perhaps less obvious was the play of Dier at right back. Dier is a terrific prospect as a centerback; he reads the game well, can pass with both feet, and is already physically imposing at just 21 years of age. As a right back, however, his presence leads to problems for Spurs defensively.
Pacy wingers cause problems for Dier with off-the-ball runs or by dribbling past him. Marko Arnautovic is a decent player; on Saturday he was made to look like Marco Reus. Below are a few clips that illustrate this point.
A simple ball over the top is enough to spring Arnautovic, who is immediately one on one against Federico Fazio. Have a look at Dier's stance as the pass is being played; while Arnautovic has already begun his sprint in behind, Dier is still squarely facing the ball.
The ball falls to Steven N'Zonzi after Fazio wins a header. N'Zonzi plays in Arnautovic, who easily dribbles past Dier and Ryan Mason before unleashing a strike from the edge of the area. The only good part about this clip is Charlie Adam lying in pain after the clash with Fazio. Worth savoring.
Mason and Dier are caught ball-watching after an aerial clash between Dier and Arnautovic, and N'Zonzi plays Arnautovic into another one-on-one against Fazio. Aside from the poor play from Dier and Mason, it's also worth noting the ragged positioning of the other defenders; none of Fazio, Chiriches, or Vertonghen are on the same page.
Fittingly, Stoke's final goal comes directly from a Dier error. Spurs are caught flat-footed when Stoke take a free kick in their own half and a simple ball down the flank is enough free Arnautovic to cross for Diouf's goal.
Pochettino's decision to start with Dier at right back played a large part in Spurs conceding three goals and many other chances to Stoke. In the second installment of this week's Tactics Tuesday, I review how playing Dier at right back handcuffed the Tottenham attack as well.