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Tottenham experimenting with surprise midfield solution in closed-door friendlies

Eric Dier is playing defensive midfield. It is known. Well, it can be extrapolated.

Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

It is closed-door friendly season for Tottenham, which means Spurs fans have recently been reduced to measuring "ear size and shape" from unrelated photos of obviously different people. Here at Cartilage Free Captain we have been playing a different game. Formation logic puzzles.

The official Tottenham site aggressively does not disclose formations or time played on these closed-door friendlies. They do not even list every player who got into the match. But Spurs' opponents also publish match reports on their sites, which produces a fun game of logic puzzles. Here are the Tottenham match report and the Brentford match report so you can play along at home.

What formation did Spurs line up in? We would presume 4-2-3-1, and we can pretty much confirm that from the evidence. The Tottenham match report lists two different four-man back lines:

Alderweireld started the game alongside fellow new boys Kevin Wimmer and Kieran Trippier, with Danny Rose completing the back four.


We made wholesale changes at the break with Kyle Walker, Federico Fazio, Jan Vertonghen and Ben Davies comprising the back four.

And Tottenham had three attacking midfielders in the second half, while the only striker mentioned is Shaq Coulthirst.

...Tom Carroll, Mousa Dembele and Nacer Chadli occupying the attacking midfield roles [in the second half].

We can glean from the match report that the Nabil Bentaleb, Christian Eriksen, Shaq Coulthirst, Josh Onomah and Nathan Oduwa also played in the first half, while Dele Alli joined the club in the second half. Oduwa-Eriksen-Onomah makes the most likely attacking midfield band for the first half, but we're missing a second central midfielder in both the first and second halves, and we're missing a second half striker.

And this is where it gets a bit interesting. The Brenford match report says:

The home side introduced Dele Alli, Kyle Walker, Jan Vertonghen, Moussa Dembélé and Eric Dier among others at the break and as the half wore on they got in to their stride.

Eric Dier you say? He was not listed in the second half back four in the Spurs report, so he must have played defensive midfield, paired with Alli. If Alli were playing alongside a very defensive partner, it would help explain how he was able to get into the box late to draw the game-winning penalty.

The pictures at Tottenham's site also include Harry Winks in the background of a picture of Alderweireld, which would make him the most likely first-half CM replaced by Dier. Since Winks is not mentioned among the attacking highlights of the first half like Bentaleb, it seems reasonable to guess Winks had the more defensive role in the pivot. There is no other striker to be seen, so maybe Coulthirst played the full 90. This, then, is our best-guess Tottenham lineup:

Clearly the most interesting point here is Dier's 45 minutes at defensive midfield. I have no idea if Eric Dier is a good DM. He didn't show obvious skills for the position last year, but who knows? What is important here is less that Dier is a solution to a problem and more that Pochettino appears to recognize that he has a problem. Trying out Eric Dier as a holding midfielder is only something you do when you recognize both that you don't have any good holders and you need one.

The second notable point are the attacking roles taken up by Bentaleb, Alli, Dembele and Carroll. Both Alli and Bentaleb apparently turned up in and around the box. This is more of the same for Alli after scoring in double digits for MK Dons last year, but Bentaleb very rarely made attacking runs when paired with Ryan Mason, and here we see him highly involved at the point of attack. This looks like another positive, as Bentaleb has too much potential going forward to be boxed into a DM role. Both Carroll and Dembele continue trends at Spurs by receiving minutes in attacking midfield rather than the center. The club has more than enough tweener CMs, and so particularly for Tom Carroll it looks like his shot at earning a first-team role with Spurs will come as an attacking midfielder.

It would be nice if Spurs would tell us these things, or allow fans to watch their favorite team play, but until then we will make do with logic puzzles.

(Update: Take a look here as we break down video of Dier in midfield to see if he has what it takes)