At first glance there may seem little to commend Eric Dier to the Tottenham of Mauricio Pochettino. He has little of the technical ability possessed by his colleagues in midfield nor is he the sort of stylish, elegant ball playing centre-back that the Argentine favours, exemplified by the Belgian duo of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Nor indeed would he fit seamlessly into the swashbuckling, but often flaky Tottenham sides of the recent past.
But he is evidently valued highly by his manager, under whom he has made 138 league appearances since joining the club from Sporting Lisbon ahead of the 2014-2015 season. The most obvious reason for that is his commendable versatility, with the Englishman having played at right-back, centre-back and midfield in his time with Spurs. But, there is another, less tangible but perhaps more important quality to be found in Dier, and that is his fighting spirit.
A fighting spirit that was as noticeably absent as Dier himself as Spurs fell to a 2-1 defeat at Watford despite taking a second-half lead. In that match, which saw Pochettino experiment with a three at the back but no obvious holding midfielder. Instead, the defensive duties in midfield were in theory to be shared between Christian Eriksen and Mousa Dembelé. But in practice Spurs were exposed and looked short of Dier’s physical presence and his ability to shield the defensive line.
There were, of course, other causes for the defeat. The attack looked toothless with Harry Kane failing to record a shot on target. In fact, the only player who did managed to hit the target was Christian Eriksen, and both were tame efforts that never troubled Ben Foster in the Watford goal. Lucas Moura failed to recapture his sparkling August form despite being a willing runner throughout and Ben Davies and Kieran Trippier were both wasteful when in good crossing positions.
But having taken the lead fortuitously thanks to a Doucouré own goal, Spurs might have been expected to hold on to their lead. Particularly as Watford had offered little attacking threat themselves. But as the match wore on and skirmishes broke out across the field, the Hornets began to gain the upper hand. They are not a particularly attractive team to watch, but they are happy to win ugly and that is rather what they did to Tottenham.
More than once they outfought a Spurs player in a physical battle, even the mighty Dembelé was robbed of possession more than once on what was a disappointing day for the Belgian. And as Watford grew into the game, Spurs retreated, shrinking from the challenge rather than meeting it head on as has become their custom under Pochettino. But might things have been different with Dier on the field, the physical force Tottenham so desperately needed as they were overrun in midfield.
He is certainly never one to shy away from a challenge. Though never red carded, in which he has been rather fortunate, he has picked up 25 bookings since joining the club, including 10 during the 2015-16 season. Fouls are not to be encouraged, but it is at least true that the opposition know Dier is on the pitch when he is playing. For much of the match against Watford the same could not be said of Dembelé, Alli and Eriksen.
Some of his tackles, especially in London derbies, will live long in the memory of both fans and tackled players alike. His aerial prowess might have been welcomed as well, with both of Watford’s goals coming from poorly defended set-pieces. Eric Dier will most likely never become one of the Tottenham faithful’s most beloved sons. Little that he does takes the breath away and he is guilty of more defensive lapses than Spurs’ other defenders when playing at the back.
But he also adds steel to the spine of his teammates and inspires not a little fear in his opponents. He is a physical force to be reckoned with whenever he crosses the touchline wearing the famous lilywhite shirt. And when Tottenham are under the cosh, when the battle is at its fiercest and all the flair and technical ability in the world won’t save the team, he may even be Spurs’ best.
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