While the pre-season ticks on behind closed doors, Spurs fans are starving for information about what's actually happening with the team. Yesterday we pieced together the fragments of disjointed match reports to discover that Eric Dier has featured in a central midfield berth. Today we've decided to fill the empty void by taking a closer look at what that might mean.
Thanks to commentariat member AmadeusSpuds and his diligence plumbing the depths of YouTube, we have some footage of Dier playing as a midfielder in his time at Sporting Club in Portugal.
Based on four and a half minutes of touches and highlights, can we learn anything about how Dier might fit into the role?
In a word, no. To draw any real conclusions about Dier's abilities as a midfielder from this footage would be insane. But we can glean some general trends that might be indicative of his possible future performance. Tenuous? You betcha. But we're gonna do it anyway because this is the offseason and we have a whole week before our first televised pre-season match.
So what can we see here?
The big thing that stands out is he seems to close down players well and step out intelligently to make interceptions. If you look at the 0:45 mark, Dier applies pressure to a Porto midfielder, and immediately has to turn and cover another player after his press is bypassed with a pass. The speed at which he turns, closes down, and makes a tackle is a nice bit of defensive work. You can also see how he is in a position that forces his man to run wide with the ball instead of giving him a route up the center. That is what you want from a DM.
Unsurprisingly, he also wins a lot of headers. As a center back playing midfield, this is no real shock. The one thing you'd expect him to do is be tall and strong in the air. Well done there. At around 4:20 you can see a good example of him winning a 50-50 ball in the air.
One of the more surprising aspects of his midfield performance is how much he gets forward and contributes to the attack. With a CB playing as a DM, you'd expect him to sit deep and clobber dudes for 90 minutes. But this isn't the case. Check out the 0:18 mark for a good example. Dier closes down a Porto attacker and forces a turnover to one of his teammates. The counter is on and immediately Dier goes charging up the field, making an intelligent run into space on the wing. He collects the ball and immediately plays a long ball into space for his teammate to run onto. Even more impressively, at 2:28, he plays a perfect through ball for Ricky van Wolfswinkel, who screws up the finish in typical Wolfswinkelian fashion.
On the downside, his passing is mostly pretty sloppy. See 1:56 and 2:08 for some notably wayward passes. While passing isn't normally the main job of a midfield enforcer, Pochettino clearly expects anyone who wants to play in his midfield to be good with the ball.
And on a weird final note, at the 4:00 minute mark, his team lets him bomb in a big free kick on goal. It was not well taken, but it's interesting that he was on the list of guys to even step up and take it.
Just as important as what we can see is what we can't. There's a couple big things missing from this video for me that make it very hard to evaluate just how Dier would perform in midfield. First, there aren't any examples of Dier tracking runners back into his own box. If he had tracked runners well in this match, these events would likely have been included in a highlights package. The absence then suggests he either had no opportunities to track runners into the box, or, more likely, he was ineffective doing so. Spurs struggled mightily in this regard last season, so if Dier isn't up to the task, that's a big red flag.
But the most important thing that you can't see from the video is his positioning in midfield without the ball, particularly his positioning when he gets bypassed in midfield. Most of your job as a defensive midfielder is off the ball. Closing down passing lanes, pressing guys with the ball even if you don't win back possession, and covering potential recipients of the ball. These are all hugely important parts of the job, and unfortunately we don't get to see any of it. We also don't get to see any of his big failures. We don't see what happens on a counter attack when Dier is out of position, or how easily he gets bypassed with a pass or a dribble when he's in the wrong place.
Ultimately, we can't conclude much, but there are at least some interesting takeaways to give us some food for thought during the empty silences of summer.