Premier League

Eriksen adaptation could unlock United's attacking potential

 • by Sam McGuire
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After securing the services of Harry Maguire, several reports stated Manchester United wouldn’t be adding any more players to their squad this summer.

The Times have since reiterated this point but ESPN claim the Red Devils are pushing hard to tie up a deal for Christian Eriksen before the window closes. 

The Danish playmaker has been angling for a move away from Tottenham Hotspur since the end of last season – the 27-year-old revealed he wanted a fresh challenge.

Many expected one of Barcelona or Real Madrid to make a move for the former Ajax maestro but neither have been forthcoming and have instead concentrated their efforts on other targets. 

Atlético Madrid were at one stage tipped as a possible destination for the Spurs No.23 but instead invested heavily in João Félix. Heading into the final week of the summer window for English clubs, it appeared as though Mauricio Pochettino was going to be able to keep hold of his wantaway star. 

But now, with uncertainty over whether or not Paul Pogba will remain at Old Trafford post-August, United appear to be keen on signing Eriksen to bolster their midfield options.

Reports suggest Spurs want around the £70million mark for a player with just ten months remaining on his deal. 

While they didn’t originally want to strengthen a rival, it is highly unlikely Daniel Levy rejects such a transfer bid, not when he can move for nothing next summer. It probably isn’t what the beaten Champions League finalists want to hear but the ball is very much in United’s court right now. 

But is the versatile midfielder what Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s team need or are United on the verge of signing yet another name with no real position for them in the squad?

Eriksen wouldn’t be a like for like Pogba replacement. He just isn’t that sort of player. 

Pogba hasn’t been consistent during his second spell with the Red Devils. Yes, penalties have propped up his goal tally but that isn’t something he should be punished for. Furthermore, what he brings to a team when he fancies it is much more than that, as you can see in the graphic above.

The World Cup winner is an aggressive ball carrier, one capable of beating players and opening up space. He can pick a pass, too, whereas Eriksen’s forte is more the latter than the former. 

The duo are both midfield maestros in their own right but share few similarities. However, that doesn’t mean United couldn’t make the most of Eriksen’s talents, they’d just need to tweak the system to facilitate his arrival.

The Denmark international is an assist machine. A creative hub with the ability to transform a game with a single pass. He’s a throwback in the sense he’s not prolific enough to be considered a wide forward and he’s not progressive enough to be a number eight many are now accustomed to seeing.

Eriksen, while managing a decent average of nine goals per season over the last three campaigns, doesn’t hit the heights of other wide players for the very best sides.

While he could play in a midfield three, he lacks the dynamism managers want from their number eights. What he can do with the ball is remarkable, but there are ways to block off passing lanes and nullify a playmaker of his style.

Unlike others, the likes of James Rodríguez and Kevin De Bruyne, wide players converted into central midfielders, Eriksen lacks the explosiveness needed to beat opponents.

The two aforementioned players average at least 1.3 dribbles on a per 90-minute basis. They aren’t limited to playing passes in order to create space, they can also beat defensive lines with their dribbling ability. It’s an underrated key aspect of the modern game.

Eriksen spent a lot of time in midfield last season and his average dropped to 0.58 completed dribbles from his three year average of 0.73. It’s a weakness the very best will recognise.

However, a way to get around this might be to use Eriksen as a deep-lying playmaker. United have a pretty stacked forward line. In Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Alexis Sánchez, Jesse Lingard and, for now at least, Romelu Lukaku. They have players who can cause problems for the opposition if given the correct service.

Last season, Solskjær tried to orchestrate transitional phases which then allowed United to hit teams on the break. It’s harder to do that if teams sit deep or simply look to play the ball long from their defensive third. A way to combat this is to deploy someone who isn’t afraid to play first-time, incisive passes from deeper areas. 

Pogba is excellent at it but occasionally opts to carry the ball when a pass would’ve been better. Given Eriksen is averse to dribbling, using him as the deepest midfielder could allow him to make the most of his vision and ability on the ball.

He could spring counter-attackers from the defensive third while opponents are transitioning from clearing the ball to sustaining an attack. If teams become accustomed to this and press Eriksen to quell potential attacks, it frees up space further forward for the attackers to exploit.

It could be a masterstroke signing but only if the United team is built around getting the best out of the midfield star.

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