While Frenkie de Jong and Manchester United were creating the transfer saga of the summer, Christian Eriksen slipped into Old Trafford almost unnoticed after a free fall.
Judging by the 30-year-old Dane’s performance to date, it all worked out well for Erik ten Hag and could have saved the Glazers perhaps more than £70million as well.
Everyone knows Eriksen’s backstory. Nearly dead after suffering a cardiac arrest while playing for Denmark during Euro 2020, his career seemed turned upside down when Inter Milan had to release him due to Serie A rules in the aftermath.
But to everyone’s delight, he was able to resume playing with his former coach Thomas Frank at Brentford and did so well that United and Tottenham wanted him – with Eriksen eventually showing up in the North West.
Christian Eriksen has had a great start at Manchester United since joining for free
United spent most of the summer with Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong, but may not need him after all
But Eriksen’s story has now gone well beyond his health. Purely as a footballer, he has brought grace and style back to United’s midfield. He has been able to play the Pirlo-esque role that Ten Hag wanted from De Jong, but is at his best further down the field, dictating the game and creating chances in the final third.
Even if De Jong changes his mind about a stay at Barcelona, it is no longer a matter of course that United need him, as Eriksen has already provided technical quality to a team that has settled for McFred in recent years.
While still waiting for his first United goal, Eriksen has become a cult hero at the Stretford End. He maintains possession with ease, but can speed up the game with a killer pass if necessary, as evidenced by his delivery to Jadon Sancho for the opener in a key Europa League win over FC Sheriff.
When he missed his first Premier League game against Newcastle on Sunday, United’s slump in play was evident in a goalless draw. Ten Hag will be keen to recover from his illness tonight to take on his former club Spurs.
Eriksen’s absence was visible to all as United stumbled to a 0-0 draw with Newcastle
Not only does Eriksen play well himself, he also frees up others around him. Scott McTominay, in particular, has been able to use his athleticism, knowing that his teammate will not lose the ball if he goes running.
The Scandinavia has also appeared for the big games. Against Arsenal, he was instrumental in two of United’s three goals. He saw the runs from Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford and had the class to deliver the right ball.
Not bad for a player who was considered an afterthought and especially a squad player when he rocked out at Old Trafford, not one of the first names on Ten Hag’s team sheet.
Things looked ominous as he was hooked after 45 minutes to an embarrassing 4-0 defeat in the second game of the season at Brentford. But when Ten Hag tore up the playbook after that, it was Harry Maguire, Cristiano Ronaldo and Fred who were sacrificed – building a midfield around Eriksen and McTominay.
The Dane struggled in the 4-0 defeat against Brentford and was substituted after 45 minutes
Even from a deeper position, Eriksen has provided assists and more than 400 passes in the Premier League – a figure only beaten at United by Martinez, Bruno Fernandes and Diogo Dalot.
Manchester City are the only Premier League team to have beaten them since the Brentford debacle on August 13 and Eriksen says of his partnership with McTominay: “We are getting a good bond and feeling where we need to be and the positions the manager wants we are. in.’
Part of Eriksen’s charm is that he can play deeper on the field or be more of a number 10 if needed.
‘We tell him which rooms he should be in. He can make a game for you, but also switch games (as no. 6) if necessary’, explains Ten Hag.
“If he sees the last pass between the lines, he can. What he can also improve is his defense.’
Even from a deeper position, Eriksen has provided assists and over 400 passes in the Premier League
That is probably the Achilles heel, against the very best like City Eriksen instinctively smells no danger. But United now have Casemiro 100 percent match-sharp if they want an absolute holder.
Ten Hag’s blueprint when he took over from United was to play out the link between defenders and attackers from the back with De Jong.
The inability to capture De Jong, coupled with David de Gea’s lack of confidence on the ball, means the Dutch manager has adapted with more long balls played than he initially thought.
But by taking advantage of Eriksen’s versatility – he is known as a playmaker but can fill De Jong’s position and keep United’s game up to par – Ten Hag has been able to progress and capitalize on central defender Lisandro Martinez’s ball game .
The playmaker has shown himself in the big games for United, including the win over Arsenal
Perhaps the biggest compliment comes from the manager he plays against on Wednesday night, Antonio Conte.
The pair won Serie A with Inter and Conte would have liked a Spurs reunion but lost to United.
“Christian is definitely a player I’ve loved working with and he’s a player I’d love to train again to have him on my team,” said Conte.
United’s failure to chase De Jong and not win a deal doesn’t look as disastrous as it did a few months ago.
United fans will be thrilled with the prospect of Eriksen playing alongside Casemiro in midfield