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Jose Mourinho and Tottenham are facing a dilemma over Eric Dier

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Tottenham Hotspur used to be the envy of their Premier League rivals when it came to tying their big players to long-term contracts.

During the peak Mauricio Pochettino years, high-performing players were regularly rewarded with incentivised deals that reflected their importance on the pitch. Pochettino’s arm-around-the-shoulder pose which accompanied the various contract announcements became the source of countless memes.

Recently, though, Tottenham ’s grip on player contracts has slipped. Uncertainty surrounding the futures of Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Christian Eriksen, massively undermined the first half of the 2019/20 season, for instance, while Eric Dier’s situation threatens to cause similar problems heading into 2020/21.

Dier’s contract with Spurs has exactly a year left to run and it is unclear what his future holds. Having started both of Tottenham’s post-lockdown games ahead of Alderweireld in the heart of the defence, Mourinho has clearly impressed Jose Mourinho but there are currently no talks taking place over a contract extension.

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So what exactly will Spurs do with Dier?

Build the defence around him

A creaking defence and malfunctioning midfield is a combination that has handicapped Tottenham’s top-four hopes all season. Alongside Chelsea and Arsenal, Spurs have the joint-worst defensive record in the top half of the table, conceding 41 goals.

The previously impenetrable pairing of Alderweireld and Vertonghen has finally begun to disintegrate with both players now in their early 30s and Mourinho’s most interesting selection call post-lockdown - other than the freezing-out of Tanguy Ndombele - has been to phase the Belgian duo out.

Dier and Davinson Sanchez have played all 180 minutes of Tottenham’s most recent fixtures and on the whole, they have shown promise as a pairing. Spurs have conceded just once in those two games and even that was a penalty converted by Bruno Fernandes after Dier had fouled Paul Pogba during the 1-1 draw with Manchester United.

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It was a clever piece of play by Pogba as he positioned himself in such a way that contact with Dier was inevitable, but that was the one mistake he committed in the match. Mourinho was glowing in his post-match assessment, saying: “Eric was perfect. I think he had a very strong performance and he was imposing his leadership, physicality, he won absolutely every ball in the air, and won absolutely every duel.”

Totalling up his tallies from the United draw and West Ham win, Dier ranks top for clearances (12), headed clearances (eight) and level with Sanchez for passes completed (102) amongst Spurs’ squad.

Although Dier and Sanchez have been earmarked as the club’s long-term pairing for some time, even pre-dating Mourinho’s arrival, neither has developed as expected up until now. That both have performed well since the break will please both Mourinho and Daniel Levy, who may not need to allocate some funds for a new central defender.

Mould him into a holding midfielder

Despite being signed as a defender, Dier has predominantly played as a central midfielder for much of his time at Spurs dating back to his second season - 2015/16 - with the club.

During the Pochettino era, Dier’s ability to seamlessly drop into defence to form a back three or step into central midfield to boost numbers in that area of the pitch were key to the team’s tactical make-up during their title-challenging campaigns in 2015/16 and 2016/17.

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In more recent seasons, however, Dier’s limitations as a midfielder have been laid bare; he often appears cumbersome on the half-turn, has a limited passing range and having been beset by injuries dating back to having his appendix taken out in December 2018, has looked physically unable to get around the pitch.

Dier started in central midfield in Pochettino’s final game against Sheffield United and Mourinho’s first against West Ham, but there is growing evidence that his best role is the one originally earmarked for him in the middle of defence.

That he is versatile enough to step into a defensive midfield role is of benefit to him and Mourinho, though, particularly given the Spurs manager’s track record when it comes to picking ‘spoilers’ in big matches.

Allow him to move on

Alternatively, Spurs may try to move Dier on to try and avoid a ‘Groundhog Day’ scenario playing out this summer.

Following three months off during lockdown, Mourinho will have begun plotting his long-term vision for Spurs and identifying the players who will be key to a rebuild. Giovani Lo Celso, for instance, is rapidly becoming one of Tottenham’s most important players.

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Having selected Dier in back-to-back games and tried to sign him while in charge of Manchester United in 2017, Mourinho clearly rates Dier highly. If the club is unable to tie him down to a new contract, though, it seems counter-intuitive to keep him in the side ahead of players who are committed to long-term deals.

Dier is reportedly happy to remain at Spurs but it remains to be seen how Levy will approach contract renewals in a post-coronavirus world. Mourinho’s input will likely be crucial to any decision being made.




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