Eric Dier has been receiving rave reviews for his defensive work, but his distribution is catching the eye as well.
Eric Dier has been the surprise of the season. His rapid growth in to one of the best defensive midfielders in the Premier League is astonishing. Not from the level of his ever-improving talent level, but by just how quickly he is settling in to and blossoming in the role.
Being a defensive midfielder, his primary function is to protect his back four, sniff out danger and shut it down. Dier has done that tremendously this season and its one of the reasons why we have conceded so few goals in the Premier League.
His size and evolution as a centre back has meant that he is a natural for Mauricio Pochettino’s system. The holding midfielder sometimes has to drop in to the back line in the defensive phase and here he feels comfortable and at home. He also has to move in-between the split central defenders to make a back three to bring the ball out. It is in this distribution phase that Dier has equally excelled and one that is highly important for the team. Having a player that can pass well from these areas gets our attacks moving more readily. It also transitions the ball quickly to the forward players before the opposition’s defence can get set.
Eric Dier moving the ball
Eric Dier is quickly becoming a cult figure in the middle of the park for his strength, energy and toughness. His ball recovery statistics are often circulated after matches and images, such as him dumping Alexis Sanchez on the floor and beckoning him to get up, go viral on social media.
But its his distribution and also pitch coverage that is now really starting to catch the eye. Dier is now moving the ball much quicker when in possession, often from the opposition’s half. What’s more, he’s passing a lot more forwards and, even occasionally, over distance.
A great example of this was Premier League match day four at home in the o-o with Everton. Dier really covered the full length of the pitch in this match. He not only dropped in-between centre backs Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen to move and bring the ball out, but he also got himself forward in to the Everton half. This saw him play a number of aggressive through balls in to or towards the penalty area and even attempt to cross.
His distribution was effective. Everton were playing a central trio in order to counteract our numbers in the middle and Eric Dier looked on several occasions to miss them out by spraying the ball over the top of them.
This diagonal out to Nacer Chadli was a highlight in his game. It’s a pass we regularly see Toby Alderweireld attempt and it is becoming part of Dier’s make-up too.
Another example was his beautifully long-lofted chip pass out for Kyle Walker to pluck out of the air at Bournemouth in the 5-1 thumping of the Cherries, which saw us win a corner that we subsequently scored from.
What has helped Eric Dier in his passing progression is his experience of playing at centre back, but also at right back. The tackling and physical side of his game has never been in doubt, but his natural ability on the ball is now being used by Mauricio Pochettino to great effect.
Against Aston Villa, Eric Dier once more demonstrated this, as he again moved the ball out from the back, but also looked to get it forward when in the opposition’s half. This saw him play a number of passes in to or towards the penalty area, but also over distance as he looked to go quickly forwards.
What was also noticeable once again was his ability to cover the ground. Eric Dier doesn’t play as a traditional defensive midfielder that likes to loiter in front of his back four or around the halfway line. He joins the action and moves up the pitch, as he has the speed and stamina to recover his position when an attack breaks down.
This sees him move further up the field as we progress the ball forward, but he also does this to help to hem the opposition in when pressing. Dier thus has a much higher position than standard defensive midfielders, as we seek to use him as a containment valve to win the ball back quickly and further up the field. His goal against Manchester City highlighted just this, as he was swept in behind our initial wave to hoover up Kevin De Bruyne’s errant pass out and lash it back in to the goal with interest.
What having Dier move in this way also does is allow him to play the ball from much higher positions up the pitch when we win it back. Rather than just use him to pass the ball out from in-between our split centre backs and then assume his job is done, Dier then has to move up the pitch as the ball goes further forward. This sees him get possession and become much more of a factor up the field, as he can use his distribution skills. Whether this is passing out to the sides of the formation to keep possession flowing or looking to play a more aggressive vertical pass, it gives Eric Dier a much fuller role in the system than just being a ball winner.
Eric Dier doing it with distribution
The evolution of Eric Dier from centre to right back to defensive midfielder seems to know no boundaries.
After getting to grips with his positioning, the improvement in his ball distribution has been the next step in his development in to what Mauricio Pochettino wants from the player in this role. His natural ability on the ball has been harnessed and this is getting our attacks moving forward much more quickly and often from higher up the pitch. While it may go unnoticed during games, Dier’s talent to move the ball out and often forwards is making a real difference to the team.