Cartilage Free Captain is again reviewing the Tottenham Hotspur first team players after the conclusion of the 2016-17 season. Up next: the versatile Eric Dier.
Appearances: 48 (36 PL, 4 FA, 1 League Cup, 5 Champions League, 2 Europa League)
Cards: 6 yellows
Passing: 86.7% Passing Accuracy, 68% Successful Long Passes
What went right?
Not long ago, the Tottenham Hotspur fanbase was clamoring to give Eric Dier a chance. Not at right-back, the place where he saw the most action in his inaugural campaign, or even in his preferred center-back role, but for a trial at the defensive midfielder position. It was the summer of 2015 and among the greatest concerns of the 2015-16 side wasn’t even the depth at the defensive center midfield spot, but the complete nonexistence of anyone who remotely resembled a player who could fill that role.
Eric Dier was given a shot to play in defensive midfield that year and formed a partnership with Mousa Dembélé that was unmatched in the Premier League that season. It was a breakout campaign that saw the former center-back start, for both club and country, in a position that he was never even destined for. I paint this rather lengthy backdrop of Eric Dier to show how remarkable of a player he is for Tottenham Hotspur as, once again, he was absolutely central to Tottenham’s success for the second straight year.
Just like Eric Dier filled the need at defensive midfield in the 2015-16 season, he left that position, the one he probably prefers to feature in the most, to play as a third center-back in a 3-4-3 set this year. Its a bit hard to remember, but Spurs weren’t clicking on all cylinders in October and early November, until Poch switched to a new formation, one that necessitated three center-backs.
The change dramatically shifted Spurs’ fortunes for the season and one can argue that there was nobody more important to that change then Eric Dier. There wasn’t anyone else on the roster who could properly fill that role and there are few reserve center-backs in the Premier League who could flourish as well in that spot too. To put it simply, the team couldn’t play effectively in a 3-4-3 without him.
Eric Dier’s passing ability sets him apart. This was noticed last term, but he is incredibly accurate and safe in recycling position, but also has a penchant to skip a few players and move play vertically. This was amplified as a right-sided center-back. How many times did Eric Dier completely open up a defense by playing a long diagonal ball to a streaking attacker? At a rate of 68% completion from long passes, he exemplified how dangerous the Tottenham attack could be, no matter where the ball was on the pitch.
He also showed calm, awareness, and ability in dribbling forward into the midfield and even making runs into the final third here and there. All of this combined with his unrelenting tenacity in defense and composure, and Eric Dier punched in a top class performance for the second season in a row.
What went wrong?
Really the beginning of the season is what went wrong and its not entirely Eric Dier’s fault. However effective he was with Mousa Dembélé in central midfield last season, he was equally as ineffective partnering with Victor Wanyama. To be fair, I place more of the blame on Victor Wanyama, who tended to play a bit higher up the pitch in this pairing than Dier, but Dier simply didn’t create. His dependable passing was just that, but hardly shifted the defense, and made the side slow and predictable. The inability to have defined roles between the two also led to more positional lapses and a weaker spine to the team than one would have anticipated with those two.
The second negative, and as with many of the outstanding footballers on our roster it is stupidly nitpicky, is that Eric Dier remains clearly our third best center-back and has now lost the first choice defensive midfielder spot to Victor Wanyama. Of course none of this is his fault, and its clear that Poche adores him and will find a spot in the first eleven for him, but if one was being super paranoid, Eric Dier isn’t first choice anywhere heading into the 2017-18 season.
As Jake Meador pointed out in his morning Hoddle awhile back, great teams require multi-positional players. These players aren’t always as heralded as their superstar teammates, but are coveted by winning managers, and revered by their respective supporters. Eric Dier is this player. Put it this way, Son Heung-Min had a spectacular and truly breakout season for Tottenham Hotspur and if the team was fully fit, Pochettino would choose the 3-4-3 and Eric Dier over our dynamic South Korean.
Still just twenty-three years old, Eric Dier has shown elite prowess in two completely different positions. He has the heart, guts, and fortitude to be a future captain of the side. You can tell that players and staff alike love him. Hopefully he’ll be with the club for a very long time and snatch the captain’s armband one day in the future.