The popular myth that Eric Dier and Victor Wanyama can’t play in defensive midfield together has been turned on its head.
The popular myth is that the pair simply cannot be played together as it hinders Tottenham’s attack. The duo brings together two defensively robust stoppers that stifle our creativity. On paper this could look like the case. However, as the season has worn on, Dieryama has excelled in to a formidable defensive and attacking partnership.
Forming a partnership
Eric Dier and Victor Wanyama have improved incomparably as a pairing. At the start of the season they were thrown together out of necessity. Mousa Dembele was serving a six-match suspension and therefore Dieryama was the only option at the base of Mauricio Pochettino’s 4-2-3-1 formation.
Throughout these matches, the pair went through a period of getting to know each other. Both were defensive midfielders and played with this mentality. The issue was that they often played at the same level, scared to concede space behind them. The base of midfield was thus far too flat.
What’s more, both became very self-conscious of their positioning when crossing the halfway line. As a result, Spurs lacked attacking ambition and struggled to progress the ball to the front men.
Upon Dembele’s return, the pairing was broken up. It wasn’t until Dembele’s injury issues resurfaced that the pair would be reunited again. By this time, Dier and Wanyama had played many more matches in the same team and so had gained a better understand of each other’s playing style.
Traditionally, one of the pairing at the base of midfield in a 4-2-3-1 is more attack minded and the other is defensively focussed. Dier and Wanyama flipped that on its head to create a true pivot. One of them goes forward and the other stays back. It gave Spurs a really good balance as they started to operate on different levels rather than as a flat pairing as they had been at the start of the season.
The Dier and Wanyama partnership is unique as both players are naturally excellent at recovering the ball, but now they are also quick to transition it in to attack.
Critics of Dieryama target their lack of attacking play with the ball. However, as the season has worn on, both have improved immeasurably at this.
The following quick clip shows Victor Wanyama executing a perfect ball recovery and quick transition against Arsenal. Wanyama recovers the ball and then races out and delivers an exquisite pass to release Son Heung-Min in to the open space beyond the defence.
Eric Dier is equally good at this. This short clip shows how he takes the ball off Alfred N’Diaye to give it to Christian Eriksen, as we open the scoring up at Hull. Watch how far up the field Eric Dier has come in order to recover the ball, safe in the knowledge that Wanyama is covering him.
This press, recover, transition has been a feature of the pairing. Both players are renowned for recovering the ball, but it is their quick transition game that has been the surprise. Whether it’s a layoff or a longer pass, both players have really worked hard on this phase.
Note how Wanyama has gone to press Xhaka whilst Dier sits deeper as cover. The pair has a much better understanding with each other now that we are further in to the season.
Eric Dier has always been an exceptional passer. However, the passing ability of Victor Wanyama was often a rod that critics of Dieryama would wield in their argument against the pairing.
When he arrived at Spurs, Victor Wanyama was very much a sideways passer. Now he has added more forward-thinking distribution to his game. The video clip above showed how he released Son Heung-Min against Arsenal. This next clip shows him doing exactly the same pass against Manchester United. This is not coincidence. It has definitely been worked on.
Harry Kane’s layoff allows Wanyama to demonstrate his passing ability to set Dele Alli beyond the defence. Dele won a corner and Wanyama scored from it.
Victor Wanyama has seriously improved his final third distribution. Against Arsenal, he created three chances in the match. The best of them saw him find Harry Kane who spurned a glorious 1v1 chance against Petr Cech. Wanyama was in a section of the field that he never would’ve dreamed of being earlier in the season when partnering Eric Dier. His defence splitting pass was just as impressive.
Operating as a true pivot where one goes and the other sits, allows both men to show off their passing abilities. This attribute is the most underrated part of Eric Dier’s game. Given time and space, Dier can pick out anybody over any distance, just as this clip shows against Arsenal.
Eric Dier frequently looks for the ball in-behind the opposition defence. Here he combines with Victor Wanyama against Hull. The pair form a neat triangle with Ben Davies. The ball goes around the triangle and is returned to Dier. He then audaciously picks out the run of Kieran Trippier to tee up Harry Kane to put us two up.
As the above videos highlight, Dier and Wanyama are often the players that assist the actual assist. Our next goal in the game against Hull showed that once more. Dier playing in Harry Kane as Dele Alli ends up with the goal.
When Dieryama can’t play together
The Dieryama combination has gone from strength-to-strength as the season has worn on. However, the 1-0 loss at West Ham highlighted when the pairing cannot be played together. The Hammers sat deep, parked the bus and played on the counter attack.
The issue that showed their limitations can be seen in all the above videos. The pairing works exceptionally well when we have space to attack. Against West Ham, Spurs dominated possession, but simply had no pitch to pass forward in to.
The pairing is excellent against opponents where the ball can be won and a break started in to space. Our forwards have room to run and Christian Eriksen has the opportunity to pull the strings. Teams that defend deep don’t allow that and this is where the Dier and Wanyama pairing has its limitations.
Busting the myth that Eric Dier and Victor Wanyama can’t play together
The popular myth that Eric Dier and Victor Wanyama can’t play in defensive midfield together just simply isn’t true. The pairing has evolved over the season in to an excellent tandem.
The combination of Dier and Wanyama is a true pivot. Both players are able to attack and defend seamlessly. The pair co-ordinate their back and forth movements ruthlessly.
The word “Dieryama” shouldn’t fill Tottenham fans with thoughts of attacking deficiency. Ball recovery, quick transitions and a growing array of attacking passes will win doubters of the pairing over.