Eric Dier's transformation to a formidable defensive midfielder in the Premier League has been swift. To say that he has been a revelation might be hyperbolic, but to say that he hasn't impressed would also be inaccurate. An England U-21 international, Dier has slipped seamlessly into a position of great need for Tottenham and has shined while doing so. Never doubted in his defensive prowess, it was his first touch and passing capabilities that were question marks when Mauricio Pochettino's defensive midfield experiment began this summer. Yet Dier has exceeded expectations in the young season. In Tottenham's recent match against Everton, Dier was a standout. Omnipresent throughout the park, he completed a whopping fifty-six of fifty-seven passes in the match.
All of this is great. Really great. Fresh local beer on a sunny Saturday afternoon kind of great. But what if he gets hurt? Tottenham have an exasperating fixture list which, whether Dier stays healthy or not, will require others to play the position. What are Tottenham's other option? Why didn't Daniel Levy sign another defensive midfielder this summer? One of the two answers to the above questions will be revealed below.
Nabil Bentaleb as DM
Nabil Bentaleb is not perfectly suited to be a defensive midfielder, nor were Spurs' guts sound when he featured there, but if we examine our roster, he is the surest choice to fill in for Dier. The double pivot pairing last term with Ryan Mason was loathsome. While Bentaleb wasn't flawless, the failure of the partnership was placed more on the shoulders of Ryan Mason's than on Bentaleb's. Mason is a wiry midfielder who can make effective, pummeling runs forward but is also positionally challenged. When asked to play as a double pivot, he pushed forward excessively and left his comrade naked in the center of the park. The pairing simply did not work out. But the question is worthy of asking: what if Bentaleb played alongside a different teammate?
Mousa Dembélé and Tom Carroll are two candidates who are similar to Ryan Mason in that they are attack minded central midfielders, but may be a better match with Bentaleb because of how they look to get forward.
Mousa Dembélé shone with Scott Parker and Sandro sitting behind him, and while Bentaleb is neither of those players, Dembélé would be a more tactically sound option. The difference between him and Mason is that when he gets forward, he rarely loses the ball. He is also more conservative with his passing. Mason may create more dangerous chances than Dembélé, but Dembélé certainly would not produce as many counterattacking opportunities for the opposing team.
Tom Carroll is another option to pair with Bentaleb. Carroll, known on this site as "English Xavi," likes to play fluid football and recycle possession throughout the field. He is also adept at playing longer balls from deeper positions. While Carroll lacks the steel and tackling ability of a Mason or Dembélé, he is also less likely to push forward because his biggest strength is an ability to sit in and pass the football. The way Carroll plays the game equates to a center midfielder who is tactically and positionally aware. With a partner who stays home more often, Bentaleb's defensive burden would be mitigated some.
True Double Pivot with Bentaleb and Alli
Dele Alli has been a firecracker for Spurs thus far. Remember when he nutmegged Toni Kroos and Luka Modriç at the Audi Cup? Remember when he scored to give Spurs the lead against Leicester? The boy is good at football and we all love him to pieces already. Yet in the Premier League he has been deployed as a second half substitute in the attacking three of our frontline. When Spurs played Madrid, he was stationed next to Eric Dier in a double pivot. In his sensational 2014-15 season at MK Dons he played as a central midfielder. Alli could work with Bentaleb in the double pivot because they are both true box to box midfielders. Alli, like Bentaleb, likes to get forward but not at risk of leaving the cupboard bare. He is less prone to become positionally defunct because he isn't an ex-striker, winger, or former #10 being forced to move back into a deeper role. Alli has always been a central midfielder and thats where his experience lies. For this alone he would likely function more responsibly next to Bentaleb.
Alderwerield cameoed in this position last year for Ronald Koeman's Southhampton side. While he didn't play there often, he was a serviceable option in the spot next to Morgan Schneiderlin. Further, Alderweireld is a pretty fluid right back for Belgium's national team. As such, it isn't a stretch to say that he could handle the technical rigors of the position while also contributing positively in his defensive responsibilities. Kevin Wimmer is the wildcard in this one. If Wimmer can impress, then it wouldn't be such a loss to move Alderweireld forward when Dier is not available.
The 19-year old just signed a new contract with the club. He is not an out and out defensive midfielder, but he could operate in the same manner as a Bentaleb or Alli. He makes the list because he could spell Dier, alongside one of the aforementioned players, in Europa League or cup competition fixtures.
Ummmmmm......why again isn't he available for the first team?
Robot Eric Dier
Artificial intelligence is the single biggest threat to humanity, just ask Elon Musk. Also, did you not see Ex Machina? Bottom line is that there is a distinct possibility that robots are among us and, if so, Daniel Levy would be the first to know. Why spend money on a fleshy sack of meat and bone when you can employ free thinking steel? #LEVYED
So, what say you? Who would be the best replacement for Eric Dier? Who would be the worst? Is there an incredibly obvious option missing? Sound off in the comments below!