While doubts remain that Tottenham have enough creativity to bother the top six, Eric Dier’s move into central midfield has been inspired…
“We were aggressive,” said Hugo Lloris, who was best placed to judge exactly how traditionally tip-toeing Tottenham contrived to out-tackle a Sunderland side containing Yann M’Vila. Lloris did not namecheck Eric Dier but the statistics tell the story: Eight tackles, two interceptions, five clearances and four blocked shots from a position we should probably cease to call ‘unfamiliar’. Midfielder Dier is Tottenham’s success story of this nascent season.
“I made the decision from the start of pre-season that we needed to give the option to Eric Dier to play,” said Mauricio Pochettino, who saw enough promise in the 21-year-old to allow French international Etienne Capoue to leave along with Benjamin Stambouli. The Argentine can now allow himself a smug smile; while Tottenham are still struggling to justify a lack of investment in strikers, his left-field decision to trust the stubbornly black-booted Dier looks inspired rather than desperate.
Let’s face it, something had to be done. Despite finishing in fifth last season, Tottenham contrived to concede more goals than relegated Hull. The purchase of Toby Alderweireld provided the no-brainer upgrade on Vlad Chiriches, Younes Kaboul and Fazio as Jan Vertonghen’s partner, but moving Dier into midfield was very much the brainer part of the transition from soft underbelly to hard abdominals. Nobody saw it coming.
While no Tottenham fan could be ecstatic with six points from their first five matches, the ‘goals against’ column makes for unusually pleasant reading. With just four goals conceded, only the Premier League’s top three can boast a more miserly record. Dier deserves a large dollop of the credit.
Comparing his tackling statistics with Francis Coquelin illustrates the might of Dier. The Frenchman has been successful with 21 of his 26 tackles while Dier has won the ball with 19 of his 23 attempts – there is a barely a cigarette paper between the pair. And although Coquelin’s passing accuracy is marginally better, it’s safe to say that Dier offers a greater attacking threat. It would be foolish to declare Dier a finished product on the back of clean sheets against Everton and Sunderland, but there is enough evidence to suggest that Pochettino and Tottenham got one thing – if not many more – right this summer.
Dier was not alone in his aggression against Sunderland, who suffered the ignominy of being out-tackled 25-22 by a Tottenham side who could boast the youngest average age (24 years and 135 days) in the Premier League, but it was his discipline that caught the eye. On a weekend when Roy Hodgson admitted that he was monitoring Liverpool’s 19-year-old winger Jordon Ibe, it surely cannot be long before he glances towards White Hart Lane in his quest to find an Englishman to play at the base of his midfield.
“I would look down the line at Dier at Tottenham. He’s a player who could ultimately be the replacement for these two,” said Martin Keown earlier this year. At that juncture he was talking about Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka, but perhaps Scott Parker would be a more apt comparison. Tottenham fans might be naturally disinclined to worship a tough-tackling midfielder, but in the absence of last season’s Harry Kane or a winger worthy of the name, Dier aggressively but fairly plugs that gap.
Man of Match Eric Dier: 56 touches, 8 tackles, 81% passing accuracy, 11.34km covered. pic.twitter.com/J4o6HNgyw5
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) September 13, 2015