Tottenham have some pretty significant questions heading into Monday's Premier League match against Chelsea. Dele Alli is out for the rest of the season after accepting a violent conduct charge from the FA for his altercation with Claudio Yacob last weekend.
Son Heung-Min or Nacer Chadli are the two most likely candidates to fill the Dele-shaped hole in the forward attacking band. Both players have their plusses and minuses, but it's likely that we'll see Sonny slot in on the right with Eriksen moving centrally.
But perhaps more troubling: defensive midfielder Eric Dier left the match midway through the second half after apparently picking up a concussion. The latest news is that he'll be evaluated on Sunday to see whether he's fit to play on Monday night.
#thfc Team news: Eric Dier suffered a concussion against West Brom on Monday and will be assessed in Sunday's final training session.— Ben Pearce (@BenPearceSpurs) April 29, 2016
So let's assume for a minute that Spurs are overly cautious and decide to keep Dier out of the match on Monday. That leaves a pretty significant hole in Spurs' starting midfield. How should Mauricio Pochettino address this with a daunting trip to Stamford Bridge looming – a place they haven't won a league match at in 25 years – and their Premier League title ambitions hanging by a thread?
What Poche probably will do
If we're all honest with each other, we probably saw the central midfield solution at the tail end of the West Brom match. Dier was subbed off for Ryan Mason, and we ended up with a weird Mason - Mousa Dembele midfield that, well, didn't work so well. This isn't all Mason's fault: he was the only central midfielder on the bench and it's probably unfair to ask him to be a defensive midfielder when his strengths lie in making forward runs and finding space. Dembele didn't really drop back into defense much either, which meant Spurs' back line was left far more exposed.
That said, Mason-Dembele is probably what we'll see on Monday. If Dembele is instructed to take more of a defensive position and use his strength to break up play, that may help mitigate the absence of Dier, since there isn't really a like-for-like replacement for his position in the squad right now. However, not having a true defensive midfielder in the squad to shield the back line could open up channels for players like Eden Hazard and Willian to find space in attacking areas. It's not the best option, but it's most likely what we'll see.
What we think Poche should do
He’s going to start Mason and Dembele in midfield because the only alternative is Dembele and Eriksen and there’s no way he goes that aggressive at Stamford Bridge. So it will be Ryan Mason. And it will be horrible. I’m not happy about saying that either. I tried to stick up for Mason. I thought he may have turned a corner in year two. But since the Fiorentina match, when he actually seemed to have some idea of how to play midfield for Mauricio Pochettino, he’s reverted to the player we’ve seen for most of the past two seasons: A threat going forward, but completely incapable of playing within a system like Pochettino’s and an enormous liability when played in the midfield two. I wish I was wrong, but I don’t think I am. It’ll be a Masonbele midfield and it will be poor.
Toby Alderweireld should step into midfield in place of Eric Dier with Kevin Wimmer coming in to partner Jan Vertonghen. Some of you may think it’s insane to remove our best defender from our back line at Stamford Bridge but remember--our league-best defense is predicated on having a strong ball-winning midfielder who can shield the defense. In the absence of Eric Dier, there’s nobody else who can reasonably approximate what he does. Except, that is, for Toby Alderweireld. He’s got all the tools to succeed in midfield—mobility, awareness, intelligent passing, outstanding defending. On top of that, he played there for Southampton last year in Schneiderlin’s absence so it wouldn’t be a jarring transition (like it would be if we tried letting some other defender try his hand there).
Wimmer and Vertonghen have both been excellent this season, and could surely hold down the back line without Toby next to him. And while they perhaps relied on Toby’s leadership and calm presence for their successful seasons, it’s not like he’ll be far away.
If this was just Alli missing three matches, then obviously the changes are going to be easier, but at this point we need some tinkering that will throw off Chelsea. The idea here would be letting Son play the #10 that also allows him to be a second striker to feed off of Harry while Chadli takes his natural left wing position. Eriksen dropping back and being a box-to-box midfielder will allow the attack to build while Dembele basically plays the role of Destroyer of Oscar and anything else colored blue. It's somewhat crazy, but I don't think it's that ludicrous, considering that we've seen Eriksen dropping back deeper to get the ball and start the attack at times this year anyways. Dembele is capable enough of playing destroyer and this will put pressure on Chelsea's defense.
The problem we have is that no one player can perfectly replace Eric Dier and what he brings to the midfield. Therefore, I suggest we replace him with Tom Carroll and Cameron Carter-Vickers duct-taped together at the hip. Tommy would provide the silky forward passing, and CCV would have the defensive nous to drop deep into defense when needed. It's genius, and it's why we pay Poche the big bucks.
Either that, or Poche should just put a cardboard cutout of Eric Dier into midfield and mount it to a remote-controlled car. Give the controller to the real Dier on the sidelines and let him run into people.
What are your ideas for how Spurs should approach their midfield on Monday? Sound off in the comments below!