Eric Dier

Defence or midfield – what is Eric Dier’s best role?

There is a lingering debate as to what position is best suited to Tottenham star, Eric Dier. The 23-year-old, comfortable in midfield or defence, is seemingly the victim of his own versatility just as we've witnessed in the last three seasons.

One dilemma synonymous with flexible players is perpetually trying to find the balance playing in a number of positions. This is evident in the career path of Barcelona’s Javier Mascherano, who started in midfield but was subsequently pushed to defence on joining the Catalans from Liverpool in 2010. Despite his success at centre-back for the Spanish giants, the 32-year-old is still being deployed in midfield by Argentina.

Mascherano’s plight is similar to that of Dier. Just like the Argentine, the 23-year-old has been shuffled in a variety of positions by Mauricio Pochetinno since moving to White Hart Lane; from defence into midfield and then back to defence. And, while he has spent the majority of this campaign as a centre-back for Tottenham, he continues to be deployed as a midfielder for England, having started in front of the rearguard against both Germany and Lithuania during the international break.

Spurs’ original intent for signing Dier in 2014 was to bolster the club’s leaky defence rather than add to an already stocked midfield which paraded the likes of Erik Lamela, Benji Stambouli, Mousa Dembélé, Paulinho, Christian Eriksen amongst others.

“Dier is a versatile and young player and we feel he has a lot of potentials. We have followed him for some time and we think he can develop into a top defender,” said Pochettino after capturing the 23-year-old who spent 11 years at Portuguese side, Sporting Lisbon.

And it was no coincidence that the youngster was handed his first start at the heart of the defence alongside Younes Kaboul against West Ham; a game he ended up at right-back and even scored the winner. His versatility was used to great effect that season shuttling between right-back and centre-back.

Move to midfield

With Toby Alderweireld arriving in 2015, it was thought that Dier would again be used sporadically. Instead, the utility man was trusted with another guise – this time as a deep-lying midfielder. It wasn’t a new role for the player, who was occasionally used as a holding midfielder in Portugal. And the 23-year-old thrived superbly in that position – so good he was handed his first England senior cap after just three months into the new season and has since developed into a key cog in Gary Southgate’s team. Aggressive, proactive and technically gifted, Dier averaged an impressive 2.2 tackles and 1.8 interceptions per 90 minutes last season, which helped Spurs end the campaign in third – their best finish in history.

Return to midfield

Victor Wanyama’s signing last summer from Southampton was another major setback for Dier who was once again redeployed back to defence. So far this term, the 23-year-old has been used at centre-back when Spurs play with four at the back and right centre-back when they play with three. The Englishman has featured 38 times in all competitions this season with 27 of those coming in defence whilst the rest in midfield. Despite Spurs’ impressive defensive record thus far, there are question marks over Dier’s contributions in that role. At times, he is caught out of position, clumsy in tackles and slow in decision making. Flexible players are a delight to any manager, obviously they enhance fluid tactics; however, this always comes at the detriment of the player.

But for Dier, it’s all about getting into the team irrespective of where he plays.

“I could do a list of loads of top players who play in many different positions. David Alaba and Philipp Lahm of Bayern Munich, or Javier Mascherano of Barcelona. People always seem to want to pin me down to one position but I see players all over Europe who play in more than one. It ensures they get appearances for their clubs and it’s a fantastic weapon for a manager.” – he told Standard Sport back in October.

Verdict: Dier's performances for Spurs has obviously come in the middle of the park, but as clearly spelt out by the 23-year-old himself; his best position is neither in defence nor midfield but anywhere on the pitch.

About the Author Toby Prince

An unrepentant soccer freak other freaks call geek.

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