While Harry Kane and Dele Alli hog the limelight, Christian Eriksen quietly plays his part in this current crop of exciting Tottenham Hotspur talent.
Since his move to Spurs in 2013, he has played in an assortment of different roles in a number of different formations. From Andre Villas-Boas to Tim Sherwood to Mauricio Pochettino, it’s hard to argue against the idea that the Danish midfielder has excelled mostly under the latter.
With newfound consistency, the man with a reputation mostly for free-kicks is showing a distinct, more resourceful side to his game this season.
Is he as aesthetically pleasing as say Philippe Coutinho, Kevin De Bruyne or Mesut Ozil? No, probably not. Is he as valuable as an asset to his side? Absolutely, in fact, he might even exceed his rivals in this regard.
Since Pochettino drew inspiration from the successes of Antonio Conte’s Chelsea with a 3-4-2-1 formation, Eriksen has relished his role alongside Dele in behind the league’s joint top scorer Kane. Dele and on occasions Son Heung-min score the goals to complement Kane’s productivity, but Eriksen is the architect in almost all of Tottenham’s forward thinking moves.
In his 26 appearances this season, he might have only scored five Premier League goals, but he has created 77 chances and laid on 10 assists – four for Kane, three for Alli and three for Son.
The beauty of the 3-4-2-1 formation for Tottenham is that it allows so much freedom for those in the squad that need it. Both Kyle Walker and Danny Rose are permitted to go forward, but those who benefit most effectively are the front three, and specifically Eriksen.
With Dele occupying a role tied closer to a second striker for Kane, the 25-year-old Dane has the freedom to roam in all areas of the attacking third. 31.2% of the chances he has created come from central areas, but 35.1% come from the right flank and a further 11.7% from the left.
Spurs’ first implementation of 3-4-2-1 this season was at the Emirates, where Spurs forced a draw. During the match, Eriksen only created two chances but just a couple of weeks later as Spurs experimented once against against Swansea, the technician scored two goals, made four key passes including one assist and put in seven crosses for his teammates. Tottenham put five past Swansea on that day.
Before Pochettino opted to change formation, Eriksen had scored zero goals and made three assists in nine appearances. Since ringing the changes, Eriksen has scored five and made seven assists in 17 appearances. The improvement is slight, but abundantly clear to see.
A home fixture against a struggling Hull City was an opportunity for Spurs to try the shape out once more, and again Eriksen would score two.
His first came from a Rose pass, where the No.23 was a late runner into the box and duly rifled the ball into the top corner with his left foot. His second came from the other flank, and instead of being a late entry into the box, Eriksen was in a genuine striker’s position – one that you may expect of Dele – to bundle home from a yard out at the back post. He is now the scorer of all types of goal.
But it was the game against Chelsea where Eriksen orchestrated his side most influentially. As Tottenham ended Chelsea’s streak of 13 victories, the Eriksen-Dele partnership flourished as David Luiz man-marked Kane out of the game. For both goals, Eriksen picked up the ball on the right flank, looked up and looped a ball into dangerous areas where Dele headed home on both occasions. Simple, but understated. His two moments of inspiration won Tottenham the game against a team that were starting to look unbeatable.
So while the likes of De Bruyne, Coutinho and even still Ozil are deliberated as the most fruitful central attacking midfielders, it is Eriksen who produces the results. He outperforms all three in assists, only equalled by another undervalued asset in Gylfi Sigurdsson for Swansea.
The former Ajax man already had a reputation for his sweet strike from outside the box and with a dead ball, but now, after some hard graft and practice as an inside forward, Eriksen is finding himself in positions where goals will come naturally. That has always been the aspect of his game that needed most work.
The next progression? Being clinical. Against Gent at Wembley, he scored after being put through on goal with a long ball from the back and, against Millwall last weekend, he was the beneficiary of a loose ball in the box, which he tucked home with apparent ease.
Spurs have their big names, but Eriksen emanates modesty and the unassuming nature of his game is starting to reap its rewards. Currently, he has created the most amount of chances in the Premier League, been involved in 23 goals and is fast becoming an indispensable cog in the Tottenham machine.
Spurs’ new system allows Eriksen to channel his creativity to peak effect and, for the first time in his Premier League career, the statistics are starting to correlate with his technical nuance.