Tottenham Hotspur improved upon their third place finish in 2015/16 to finish as runners-up last season. Defensive duo Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld were lavished in praise for their part in making Spurs one of the most resilient sides in the Premier League while the attacking talents of Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli were lauded for their contribution to the side’s impressive league campaign.
One player whose involvement was swept under the rug a little was Victor Wanyama. Mauricio Pochettino reunited with the midfielder, signing him from Southampton, and he was immediately positioned at the heart of the Spurs midfield alongside Mousa Dembélé.
He missed just two Premier League matches and was pivotal in their second-place finish, with Pochettino building from the back. Spurs conceded just 26 goals during the 2016/17 season, the fewest in the league. For context, on average, Hugo Lloris had to pick the ball out of the back of his net just 0.62 times per 90 minutes.
So far this season Spurs have conceded five in seven matches. Or 0.71 per 90 minutes which would be 27 goals over the entirety of the season. It’s near identical to last season, granted it’s a small sample size, but they’ve managed it without the services of Wanyama.
The 26-year-old has just 98 minutes to his name. A knee injury has kept him out since the 2-1 defeat to Chelsea on the second weekend of the season and Spurs have been forced to field Manchester United transfer target Eric Dier in the midfield two. The versatile 23-year-old has taken his chance and impressed in a role he’s played a number of times throughout his career.
What happens when Wanyama returns? With Davinson Sánchez catching the eye as part of the back three, Dier’s position of last season has been taken and his form doesn’t warrant a place on the bench.
As you can see in the graphic above, he’s outperformed Wanyama in interceptions, tackles won, aerial duels won and passes attempted per 90 minutes, with the former Southampton man only just coming out on top in the pass completion stakes.
What’s even more impressive is that Dier is excelling even when playing alongside Moussa Sissoko, last season’s villain. The Frenchman, who became the club’s record signing last summer, has been filling in for the injured Dembélé and thrived in that role. On paper this is a weakened midfield duo for Spurs yet they’re doing just as well as the first-choice pairing.
What does Pochettino do when he has a fully-fit squad at his disposal? Has Dier’s early season form resigned Wanyama to the bench until there’s a need for a change? Or is the Kenyan midfielder one of the first names on the team sheets for the manager?
The depth Spurs have in this part of the pitch is enviable and it’s the proverbial ‘nice headache’ for Pochettino to have.