Tottenham were hit with a blow earlier this month as it was confirmed centre-back Toby Alderweireld had suffered a bad hamstring injury. The Times reported that he could be out until the New Year, which leaves Mauricio Pochettino with a problem in two positions. The Belgian international is regarded by many as the best defender in the Premier League and any team would struggle to replace a player of his quality. During the last two matches, the Spurs boss has continued with his 3-4-3 formation and shifted Eric Dier into the back three. Based on the performances and the results, this isn’t the answer. It would be a mistake for the team to continue with this line-up over the Christmas period.
The main problem caused by moving Dier back into defence is that it is no longer his best position. By moving him there, it means he can’t be selected in central midfield and the lack of a ball-winning player there hinders the side out of possession. It was most evident against Arsenal as Mesut Ozil was given too much space and time in the attacking half, which allowed him to pick passes to cut the Tottenham defence open. Meanwhile, against Dortmund, the opening goal of the match came as Andriy Yarmolenko played a through ball into the path of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. There wasn’t any pressure on the Ukranian and it was clear that they missed a destructive presence in the middle of the park.
This season has been a good one for Dier so far as he continues to establish himself as a very good Premier League player. He is averaging 2.12 ball recoveries per ninety minutes and has won 51.06% of his aerial duels in the league. In possession, he is trusted with the ball, as he has a pass completion of 88%. His passing has come on a lot under Pochettino, but it is his tactical flexibility that appeals to the manager, as he can do well in a number of roles. A player like the 23-year-old is often the victim of his own versatility as he isn’t given the chance to master one role. His latest switch back to centre-back is an example of that.
In terms of his defensive work, Dier is reliable and a decent centre back. His physical attributes allow him to compete in the air and he is quick across the ground, which is becoming more and more important for a defensive player. The England international is positive in possession too, but he is not Alderweireld, arguably the best at launching attacks from deep. The defence hasn’t looked as confident over the past seven days as gaps are appearing more regularly and they seem more conservative in their style.
They managed to come back to win against Dortmund, but Alderweireld’s injury remains a problem. They don’t look as slick in the 3-4-3 without him and they may be better off switching to a 4-2-3-1 formation. This would allow Eric Dier to move back into central midfield alongside either Mousa Dembele or Harry Winks. Meanwhile, an attacking trio of Dele Alli, Son Heung-min and Christian Eriksen given freedom to interchange positions could cause real problems for the opposition. It is worth considering, as Dier is better in midfield.