Eric Dier has been filling in at right back, but is it time to give him a rest from playing the position?
“It was always my ambition and my dream to come back to England and play in the Premier League. I just want to adapt really quickly and do the best I can.” A delighted Eric Dier said after signing for Spurs.
At just 20 years old, Dier probably didn’t expect to be thrust in to as many starts as he has been. Primarily a centre back, the England under-21 international, has been playing as a right back so far in the wake of injuries to Kyle Naughton and Kyle Walker.
It’s a position he can fill in at, but he just doesn’t look at home there. Newcastle took advantage of this on the weekend, but they haven’t been the first side to do so.
Eric Dier full back positioning
After starting off with two goals in his first two Premier League matches, Eric Dier was settling in well to life in the Premier League.
He started off at centre back against the Hammers, but was moved in to the right back berth after Kyle Naughton was sent off. This has been a microcosm of his time at Tottenham; a centre back that has been helping out at right back because the team needs him to do so.
Not much was known about Dier, but as the matches have progressed, opponents have been learning and increasingly targeting him. Dier is big and strong, but he lacks the quickness in both foot speed and change of direction, which is required by a full back to deal with tricky wingers.
Liverpool took advantage as Alberto Moreno streaked away from him in their victory at the Lane, but the first team to really target him was Sunderland.
In our 2-2 draw at the Stadium of Light, the Black Cats switched Adam Johnson from his usual starting position on the opposite flank to match up against Dier.
They were looking to isolate Johnson’s quickness and jinking dribbles against the slower, bigger man. It manifested itself after just a couple of minutes, as Johnson got himself 1v1 against Dier, who had become separated from the rest of our defence.
Johnson wasted no time in dribbling at Dier, using his speed and quick changes of direction to twist him inside and out before shooting in to the net.
Sunderland didn’t let up as they continued to try to get Johnson 1v1 against him, but also other runners in-behind to expose his lack of pace. Jordi Gomez did just that to take a pass from Johnson before flopping to earn the free kick that saw Sunderland score their second.
At the death, Patrick van Aanholt took a pass from Adam Johnson to race in-behind Dier, who again had become separated from the rest of his defence. The Duthcman pulled back a cross back for Will Buckley, who should have won the game, but fired over.
Newcastle at the weekend also looked to go after Eric Dier in the second half. Before the interval they looked toothless going forward.
Alan Pardew’s changes at half time saw him bring on the rapid Sammy Ameobi to go up against Dier, as Newcastle tried heavily to get in-behind our right back.
Straight from the kick-off, Dier’s lack of pace was exposed as Ameobi went right past him to score. Ayoze Perez’s winner also came from Remy Cabella, another player who can dribble and change direction quickly, getting in to Dier’s right back zone as he was caught up field.
Lack of balance going forward
Whilst Eric Dier can be caught out defensively, he also doesn’t help the team balance going forward when he plays as a right back. Dier is not as well versed at playing the position as he is as a centre back and it shows.
With us playing inverted wide forwards, the fullbacks need to supply the width. Whereas we get this from Danny Rose on the left, we don’t see so much of it from Eric Dier on the right.
Take our game at Newcastle at the weekend. Eric Dier receives the ball, often from passes out from the centre of midfield, but rarely gets up toward the edge of the penalty area.
Compare this with Danny Rose over on the other side. Rose receives five less passes than Dier, but takes a much larger number of the balls played to him much higher up the field.
The baulk of Dier’s passes received are in his own half, whereas Rose’s are in the Newcastle half. This has a knock-on effect on them delivering good quality balls in to the box.
Dier tries just three crosses, but from much further out, whereas Rose attempts ten from much higher up the pitch.
In our Premier League match before with Man City, we can see an even more extreme example. City are a much higher calibre of opposition and so we’d expect to see less of the ball, but we can also see how Dier struggles to get forward compared to Rose on the other side.
Eric Dier only receives three passes in the Man City half of the field.
As a result of him not getting forward, his passes played are pretty much all up the line. There is no crossing or attacking passing threat.
Whereas Danny Rose gets much higher up in to the City half despite only receiving the ball just four more times than Dier.
Rose was also able to deliver four crosses, including the one for Soldado’s first time shot that Joe Hart made a great save on.
This imbalance hurts the team going forward, as we really are only playing with an attacking outlet on one side of the field. The full backs need to provide the width in Pochettino’s system and we need this from both flanks to avoid becoming predictable.
The more opponents have success with a tactic like exposing Dier as the weak link at right back, the more other teams will try it in the future. This could erode the confidence of what promises to be a fine centre back.
Eric Dier is helping the team out by playing at right back, but he does need some help. Ideally we should get Kyle Naughton back in to the team as soon as possible and Kyle Walker whenever he is able to return.
In terms of current tactics, we’ve seen Ryan Mason and Moussa Dembele covering for Danny Rose when he goes forward. Etienne Capoue needs to provide more cover for Eric Dier when he goes up field. The Frenchman does try to provide this, as we can see from Newcastle’s second goal on the weekend, but can be slow to get across.
Mauricio Pochettino could also help Dier out by playing Aaron Lennon ahead of him. Lennon is much better at covering his full back than either Erik Lamela or Nacer Chadli and would offer greater support on this side.
If Mauricio Pochettino was feeling particularly attacking then why not try Aaron Lennon at right back? Lennon doesn’t fit with Mauricio Pochettino’s system to play in one of the advanced midfield roles and he does need to find a way to revive his Tottenham career.
Pochettino could always switch to a back three, incorporating Dier as a centre back, a much better position for him. This could see him either go 3-5-2 with Lennon and Rose as wingbacks, which would also get two strikers on the field. Or, he could go 3-4-3 if he wants to stay closer to his existing system with Chadli and Lamela as wide forwards.
Whatever is decided, playing Eric Dier at right back is not a long-term solution. If he is left to play there, it could erode the confidence of a player who will be a pretty special centre back in years to come.