Player Spotlight: Christian Eriksen

With the upturn in form of Erik Lamela since the start of September, much focus has turned to the frailties of another Tottenham playmaker, Christian Eriksen. 

Arriving from Ajax in the ‘Gareth Bale summer’ of 2013, the Dane took half a season to settle into English football after his £9.45m move from Amsterdam. However, once he got going, the two-time Danish Footballer of the Year hit form for Tim Sherwood’s Tottenham, where Spurs were able to salvage a sixth place finish. That season he scored seven goals and notched eight assists in the Premier League as well as scoring three goals in the Europa League.

However the arrival of Mauricio Pochettino in the summer of 2014 raised eyebrows, as the high energy pressing style that Pochettino trains his teams to play is unnatural to a player like Eriksen. And this proved to be the case in the opening weeks. Whilst scoring and assisting in the opening games, Eriksen struggled to reach the intensity already being shown by the likes of Erik Lamela, Nabil Bentaleb and even Harry Kane. But as the season progressed, Eriksen began to press more intensely and by the time Spurs faced Everton at the end of November, Eriksen was regularly running 10km per game. The period from late November to the end of January was Eriksen’s best of the season and the Dane scored six goals, four being winners, and also managed two assists in those two and a half months. However, the biggest concern for Spurs fans was the way his form dipped in the run-in from mid-February to May. Much of this was put down to fitness and the fact that Pochettino’s demanding system had been too much for Eriksen to cope with – and he’d need more than a season to adapt, despite running 210.1 miles over the course of the season. What was also concerning was the lack of assists Eriksen had mustered up throughout the campaign, with only two of Spurs’ 58 Premier League goals being assisted by the playmaker.

The theory that Eriksen is simply not creative enough and cannot create opportunities as a ‘number 10’ have already been dispelled in 2015/16, however. In 13 Premier League games, Tottenham’s number 23 already has five assists to his name and has created 38 goalscoring chances for his Tottenham teammates. So, naturally, people’s concerns have turned to his passing and goalscoring ability. With only three goals to his name in all competitions, the Dane is looking to match his impressive total from 2014/15, where he scored 10 Premier League goals and two goals in Spurs’ League Cup semi-final win at Sheffield United. He had a knack of popping up with late, winning goals and has struggled to replicate these in his third season in North London. For a young player who was practically world famous from the age of 17 onwards, is the criticism fair or is he a victim of his early career’s success?

Christian Eriksen - Premier League Goals Per Game

In 2015/16, Eriksen’s pass completion is still at an impressive 80% average per game, down only 2% from his previous two seasons in England’s top flight. 

Christian Eriksen - Premier League Pass Completion %

However, his key passes per game stats are, so far, better than 2013/14 and 2014/15 – with 2.54 key passes per game in his 13 League games so far. 

Christian Eriksen - Premier League Key-Passes Per Game

More impressively, his five assists thus far are only three off the eight he managed in his first season – a record that could well be beaten in the coming games.

Christian Eriksen - Premier League Assists Per Game

In terms of his creativity, there is little doubt for me that Eriksen is up there with the most intelligent players in England. His eye for a pass is unlike anybody else in this Tottenham team and, often, he plays passes that even his teammates could not have expected. In comparison to the rest of Spurs’ attacking men, he is easily the most creative and is often on another wavelength to even the likes of Lamela and Mousa Dembélé. This resonates more when you watch him inside the stadium; his movement, the way he creates space between the opposition’s defence and midfield, the ease with which he makes passes and his often nonchalant ability to play a penetrative pass is a joy to behold. He’s definitely not someone who modern fans call a “highlights player”. As a young Spurs fan myself, Eriksen is one of a handful of players who I can truly say is a pleasure to watch at White Hart Lane. 

For Spurs fans in general, however, there is concern as to his ability to adapt completely to Pochettino’s demanding style of play. The best example of his weakness when defending was the goal Spurs conceded away to Bournemouth in October, where he was required to cover Danny Rose at the back post but left Matt Ritchie open to slam home the opening goal. Spurs went on to win 5-1 on the South Coast and the Dane even popped up with an assist to make amends. 

Whilst Rose tucked in to go up for the header, Eriksen should have been covering his position and this would have allowed him to prevent Ritchie from having a shot on goal.

Whilst Rose tucked in to go up for the header, Eriksen should have been covering his position and this would have allowed him to prevent Ritchie from having a shot on goal.

Dembélé’s upturn in form has seen Eriksen spend much of the game out on the left flank and, despite the interchangeability of Pochettino’s style, his ability to influence the game is lessened as his defensive responsibility rises. When pressing on the front foot, Eriksen tends to be more confident and he averages 1.31 tackles and 0.77 interceptions per game – including some that put Spurs back on the front foot and resulted in goalscoring opportunities. The most memorable moment from 2014/15 was Eriksen pressing Mathieu Flamini into a mistake, which allowed Lamela to play Nacer Chadli in for the opening goal of the North London Derby at the Emirates. This season, his interception from James Tomkins’ lazy pass allowed the Dane to set up Kane to put Spurs 3-0 up over rivals West Ham United. 

Christian Eriksen - Premier League Tackles Per Game

Therefore, suggestions that Eriksen is unable to play the way Pochettino wants is wide of the mark, but the Dane’s willingness to help his left-back does not match that of Heung-min Son, Chadli or Lamela. In fact, there is a case for Pochettino keeping left-back Ben Davies in the line up whilst Eriksen is deployed on the left flank due to the Welshman’s natural defensive ability in comparison to his competition, Danny Rose, who prefers to venture forward using the defensive protection of his left winger. Tottenham are still unbeaten in games that Davies and Eriksen have started on the left-flank together, although this doesn’t prove a whole lot considering Spurs have rarely lost at all this season.

Eriksen has also received much criticism for his set pieces this season. After scoring twice at Swansea from free-kicks to earn a 2-2 draw, Eriksen’s corners and free-kick’s have been labelled as ‘weak’ and ‘too short’. However, judging by the times they have actually worked, there is clearly some method behind this change in approach. The three times they have worked are in the games against Stoke City, West Ham United and Newcastle United. Eriksen’s corner is whipped in to the front post area where, when done right, it is met by the head of either Eric Dier or Toby Alderweireld who aim to guide the ball home. This type of corner is particularly difficult to defend against as the goalscorer always begins at the far post before sprinting across goal and flicking in the set-piece.

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Both of these examples – as well as the goal against Stoke City (all coincidentally at the Park Lane end of White Hart Lane) – show how Dier or Alderweireld are able to beat their men to the ball and nod home.

Both of these examples – as well as the goal against Stoke City (all coincidentally at the Park Lane end of White Hart Lane) – show how Dier or Alderweireld are able to beat their men to the ball and nod home.

Overall, the much-maligned Eriksen is perhaps being used as a scapegoat purely because of the lack of work he puts in in comparison to his teammates. However, with his wand of a right foot, his ability to create and his eye for a pass, it wouldn’t be a terrible idea for Pochettino to gift Eriksen with a freer role than the one he already occupies and perhaps loosen the defensive responsibility on the young Dane’s shoulders. Like with Gareth Bale and Luka Modric in the past, it might just be time for Spurs fans to enjoy the mercurial talent that is on our hands – before it’s too late.

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