Eric Dier performed well against Sunderland but some key moments highlighted he still has a lot to learn.
Eric Dier made his second debut in the Premier League at centre back last weekend.
I use the word debut as his first, on the opening day of the season at West Ham, saw him shifted out to right back after just 29 minutes. We only had a brief glimpse of him in his natural position before Kyle Naughton’s red card forced a reshuffle that would see Dier make a temporary home at right back.
Without Kyle Walker, that supposed short-term move would last several months. As time wore on, with Eric Dier looking more like a centre half at full back, he became an increasing focal point for opposition attacks. So much so that after the 2-1 loss at home to Newcastle, he was taken out of the firing line and only received one start in our next twelve Premier League matches.
Eric Dier did have a run out at centre back away to Limassol in our qualification playoff for the Europa League. However, Saturday’s start against Sunderland was our first real chance to see him have 90 minutes against a decent standard of Premier League opposition.
Eric Dier on the ball
Mauricio Pochettino likes ball playing centre backs and Eric Dier fits the mould of that.
Our new coach also wants his men at the back to split wide in order to stretch the opposition and any press out. He wants them to take the ball wide from the goalkeeper and then progress it forward up the flank. Eric Dier did this pretty well as we can see from his passes received during the game.
Dier takes the ball often from Hugo Lloris out to the corner of our 18-yard box in what might look like a full back position. As he moves up the pitch he takes possession across from Jan Vertonghen and back from Kyle Walker, as his movement makes that sweeping motion out and up that Pochettino desires.
On the ball his passing was pretty solid as he moves it out to Kyle Walker up the line or back to Hugo Lloris to either redistribute it across the back four or clear.
Whilst his passing and forward movement wasn’t as forceful as Jan Vertonghen, Pochettino does require some balance between his centre backs.
Whilst the Belgian is much more aggressive in his movement and actions, as we’ll see next, Dier has to balance this by being more passive.
Eric Dier defensively
For the most part, Eric Dier did look more composed in his natural position than when he was thrust in to the right back berth.
He didn’t have a great deal to do, as Sunderland were trying to run Jermain Defoe off Jan Vertonghen.
There were some momentary lapses in his concentration though, which affected his positioning.
The first saw Steven Fletcher sneak in behind him as the ball was moved across the field and out to Billy Jones out on the right.
Eric Dier didn’t seem to pick up on Fletcher’s movement, as he was distracted by the run of Defoe. Jermain should’ve been Vertonghen’s man, but with Jan playing zone at the near post, Fletcher was able to swoop in, but missed his kick with the goal gaping.
The next error saw Dier turn the ball over to Connor Wickham as he had it on halfway and was looking to find Kyle Walker.
Wickham raced towards our goal, but Dier showed good recovery pace to get back and knock the ball loose. Unfortunately it went straight to Adam Johnson, who fired a long-range effort at Hugo Lloris. Our keeper palmed the ball away and Dier was slow to react as Danny Graham ran off him towards the rebound.
Fortunately Graham could only send the ball straight back in to Lloris’ arms with his weaker left foot.
His third lapse saw Graham get a high percentage shot once again. Jan Vertonghen was continuing playing in his aggressive manner as he went forward to challenge for the ball. With the Belgian moving up, Dier wasn’t in an awful position, but needed to step over at least one more stride to force the ball down his outside.
As it was, he allowed just enough of a corridor for the ball to be fed in to Danny Graham, who could turn and get his shot away.
Lloris pushed it round the post for a corner, which led to Vertonghen’s breakaway ‘offside’ goal, again showing Jan’s aggressiveness.
The shooting chance for Graham wasn’t entirely Dier’s fault as Vertonghen was being his usual assertive self. Eric Dier needed to react to his move, but was just a fraction too slow. This is something that will come from increased playing and training time to develop a better chemistry, just as we have seen grow between Vertonghen and Federico Fazio.
Clinical ball movement
Whilst Eric Dier did have some momentary concentration lapses and positional problems, he did start the move from which we won the game.
As Sunderland had the ball out on our right, Adam Johnson tried to send it inside to the under lapping Patrick van Aanholt. Kyle Walker deflected his pass and Eric Dier picked up the loose ball. Seeing the Sunderland wing back out of position, he sent it straight up the line to Andros Townsend who was in the clear and able to get out on the break.
Christian Eriksen finished the move to win the game, but Dier’s quick thinking and accurate pass to split two Sunderland players got it all started.
In his second start, but first full Premier League game at centre back, Eric Dier continues to make small steps of progression. He still has a lot to learn in his defensive positioning, but having only just turned 21 last week, the future is bright.