Harry Maguire faces yet another career setback with Gareth Southgate set to hand Eric Dier a shock last chance to snatch the Manchester United captain’s World Cup starting spot. The under-fire centre-back only came on for the final 10 minutes against Arsenal at Old Trafford with the game already won 3-1 – and still managed to pick up a booking within 60 seconds.
It was the fourth game in a row that he had been left out of Erik ten Hag’s starting line-up. Maguire’s previous action had been in the 4-0 defeat to Brentford, after which he was the subject of widespread criticism – adding to the persecution he suffered at the end of last season when his form was also being called into question.
At the same time, Dier says he is playing the best football of his life – just as Southgate mulls over his best central defensive options for the World Cup in November. It is nearly two years since the Tottenham player last pulled on an England shirt, however it has emerged that the England manager has remained in regular contact with the 28-year-old during his exile.
For the World Cup, Southgate seems to be leaning towards a back three, the same system Antonio Conte installed at Spurs following his arrival and one in which Dier has flourished. This season in particular, the 28-year-old has been the mainstay of Spurs’ unbeaten start to the season, their five goals conceded the second-fewest in the Premier League.
“Am I playing as well as I have done? Yeah,” Dier says after a pause. “Not just now, I think, for the last six months or so. Since the last manager came here.
“Since he arrived I think I have improved a lot and have worked hard to try to improve as much as possible and I feel very good. It’s nothing specific he has done, but the most important thing over the summer was that we had a preseason to work with the manager which we had not had before.
“We were able to work physically and tactically, which made a big difference.” In the 25 internationals since Dier was last in the team, Southgate has used no fewer than nine different players in a centre-back role.
Most worrying, though, is the dip in form of Maguire, a player who was previously considered a shoo-in for one of the starting berths. Southgate has always been adamant he will only pick players who are currently in the first team for their clubs, worrying given the manner Maguire has dropped down the United pecking order.
The upcoming UEFA Nations League double-header against Italy and Germany at the end of the month is the last test before Qatar. But Dier is refusing to get distracted by all the permutations and is instead focused 100 per cent on what he can have an impact on.
“For me, I just have to play as well as I can for Tottenham. That’s the only thing that is in my control. All I can control is what is in my control and that is to keep getting better game by game and playing as well as possible.”