20th June 2016. By Edward Stratmann.
Heading into England's monumental contest with Wales, much of the talk centred around whether the Three Lions could stop Gareth Bale.
Having scored or assisted 10 of the 13 goals scored by the Welsh in qualifying, England definitely needed to pay close attention to the Real Madrid star if they were to give themselves the best chance of winning. Keeping the most expensive player in history quiet is, however, something that's obviously easier said than done.
Thankfully for England, though, courtesy in large part to their one and only holding midfielder, Eric Dier, they did a fantastic job of limiting Bale's impact.
Dier followed on beautifully from his man of the match performance against Russia by putting in an utterly composed and assured shift from his post at the base of Roy Hodgson's midfield in their stirring 2-1 win.
Whenever Bale ventured into his designated area of operation, Dier would be on hand to track the Welsh wizard. The 22-year-old made some brilliant interventions and physically imposed himself on his adversary, but his exemplary positioning was unquestionably the unheralded highlight of his job on Bale. In combination with his astute reading of the game, this saw him always occupy the right space to block off passing lanes and close off the vital central space to Bale.
Moreover, in situations when England lost the ball in the attacking third, Dier would sharply press onto Bale to ensure he couldn't freely receive possession and drive at England on the counter. In addition, the way he dropped back into central defence upon immediately noticing Chris Smalling or Gary Cahill stepping out to undertake a marking assignment ensured the English backline remained secure.
[caption id="attachment_13450" align="alignleft" width="300"] 607465739KT00149_England_v_[/caption]
While Dier's contribution in stopping Bale undoubtedly played a huge role in England's ability to quell his impact, the support of his teammates also deserves special mention. Dier and his defensive counterparts worked in unison to get the job done, and it suitably paid off.
Helping cover his fullbacks and assisting with the marking duties of Aaron Ramsey and Hal Robson-Kanu only served to amplify his outstanding defensive contribution.
By keeping things simple and acting as a brilliant reference point and facilitator of getting the ball into the feet of England's more dangerous players, Dier was an integral component in the Three Lions' possession phases too.
Both with, and without, the ball, Dier once again showcased why he's arguably England's most important player in terms of balance and structure. He's a player that gets on with his assigned task and who doesn't mind sacrificing his own game for the benefit of the team. And with England's wealth of attacking talent, his role is unbelievably vital.
"I like the way Dier plays with his brain at both ends of the pitch," aptly noted former England international Jamie Redknapp.
It's remarkable to think that only a year ago Dier was uncapped and hadn't completely cemented his starting position at Tottenham. But fast forward to now and the 22-year-old is just about the first name on the teamsheet for both club and country. Indeed an achievement that's nothing short of spectacular.
"It's a bit of a meteoric rise in the sense that he is suddenly a key figure for Tottenham and then to come in and play an important role for England is a big step for him," explained Hodgson.
"He is handling it very well. He certainly has a very good temperament and he has some qualities in that position that we think we can use."
The ever reliable and dependable Dier will be tasked with another challenging proposition up next when England face a talented Slovakia, where he'll be charged with neutralising their wildly gifted midfielder, Marek Hamsik.
Having already dealt with Oleg Shatov and Bale so far in the tournament, Dier will be confident he can limit the Napoli star's effectiveness.
His intelligence, positional sense, selflessness and unwavering commitment should see to it.
More fantastic articles at Edward's football blog.
Holding Midfielder Eric Dier: A Vital Component of the England Squad
20th June 2016. By Edward Stratmann.