Manchester United signed high-flying midfielder Christian Eriksen from Brentford during the summer transfer window.
The Red Devils have been in a slump for the past two seasons and Erik ten Hag was brought in as manager this summer to re-invent them. Hailed as one of the key players for the rebuild of ManUnited, Eriksen is yet to live up to his full potential. But what is holding Eriksen back and how can Ten Hag unleash him?
The questions Ten Hag needs to answer…
In the first game of the season, Ten Hag deployed Eriksen as a centre forward, having him drop deep and play balls over the top. This didn’t work well for a few reasons. With the Dane dropping deep, the other Man United midfielders had to push forward. However, lots of Eriksen’s passes were cut out and Brighton used the space left by the United midfielders to attack. The Dane’s passes were too ambitious for the nervy Man United squad to use to their advantage.
Later in the Brighton game, Ten Hag could see the centre-forward position wasn’t working. He moved Eriksen to central midfield and replaced him with Ronaldo, after which they were a lot more threatening and managed to score. Eriksen looked much more comfortable in the deep-lying playmaker role, although his natural position is attacking midfielder.
Ten Hag has two splendid choices for creative midfielders. Bruno Fernandes is an amazing passer as well as a clinical finisher. Eriksen is a superb passer with great on-the-ball skills. However, Ten Hag is yet to work out his formation and tactics to get the best out of both of these players.
So far, ten Hag has played Eriksen as a left-sided, central midfielder. The Dane’s role has been as a deep-lying playmaker – dictating the play and spraying passes. In this role, Eriksen can be the heartbeat of a now exceptional Man United midfield. The arrival of Casemiro will complete the picture by giving Eriksen the defensive cover he needs, allowing him the freedom to roam around the middle of the park, creating chances. In this arrangement, Fernandes would play as a No.10.
Both players are natural attacking midfielders, but I don’t think this option would work. Mainly because I think that Man United would not cope defensively with both of them in an advanced role. This arrangement would look similar to the way Man City played David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne a couple of years ago.
Bruno Fernandes used to play as a central midfielder for Sporting Lisbon. He is also a better defender than Eriksen, which could help Casemiro. In this arrangement, Eriksen would play as a No.10.
Which option is best? I think it would be best if Bruno Fernandes played in the deeper role because he could be integral in helping a shaky Man United defence. I think Eriksen could be really effective in playing the ball over the top or in behind for Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho to chase. Eriksen has also looked good as a central midfielder, so Ten Hag could interchange their positions, increasing their versatility.
I think there needs to be a real target man to aim for in the box who can make good use of Eriksen’s passes. As a Brentford fan, it pains me to say this but Ivan Toney is the perfect player for Man United due to his dominance in the box. We saw how well the play between Ivan Toney and Eriksen worked at Brentford last season. Toney’s hold-up play would also benefit Rashford, Sancho, Anthony Elanga and new signing Antony, bringing them into effect by giving them more involvement with the ball.
We know that Ten Hag likes to line-up with a big, physical striker. Toney’s physicality makes him a real handful for defenders and he often draws fouls, which is ideally complemented by Eriksen’s specialism at set pieces. Toney also has a great work rate and contributes a lot defensively. While at Brentford we saw Eriksen favour the left corner of the box.
The signing of Casemiro will allow Eriksen to enjoy the creative freedom he had at Brentford. While in West London the Dane had Christian Norgaard to hold down the midfield. Casemiro is a better player than Norgaard, with a winner’s mentality; he’s both a better passer and he’s faster. Casemiro will make the Man United defence look a lot more solid and provide a welcome morale boost for the whole squad.
Man United showed real class winning against an unbeaten Arsenal side recently. Eriksen’s performance drew these words from Ten Hag: “I think he can make a game for you, he can also switch the play when needed. I think he played a magnificent game.”
In this particular match, Eriksen picked up his first assist of the season, unselfishly squaring it to Marcus Rashford for a simple goal. This assist involved the Dane making a lung-busting run when he spotted a gap in the Arsenal defence and capitalised, running from inside his own half into the opposition’s box. The 30-year-old had the most touches, passes and chances created of any player in his team and also covered the second most distance during the game. Eriksen really pulled the strings in this amazing show at the so-called Theatre of Dreams.
With Man United’s form on the up, there are signs that Eriksen is settling in and that Ten Hag is understanding how to use him. With some decisions taken about how to use Eriksen in midfield, we should see him dictating play and becoming the one to make the Red Devils tick. He is a player that can help develop other players and set the tempo of a match. Fernandes will also benefit from Eriksen, as now he won’t have to drop deep for the ball.
However, there is more work to do to unleash Eriksen’s full potential. Ten Hag needs to surround him with the right players. A big, physical striker is needed for Man United. Rashford is naturally a winger and not the best choice to play as a striker, as he does not have the aerial dominance to win headers and he doesn’t reliably put
Signing Casemiro was a good, albeit expensive, decision but now Ten Hag needs to play him. So far Casemiro has only played 51 Premier League minutes this season. Scott McTominay and Fred, who currently play in defensive midfield roles for Man United, do not provide the quality of defensive cover that Eriksen needs. McTominay also gets a lot of fouls.
Building the Man United team around Eriksen is what’s needed to unleash his full potential – watch this space and the January transfer window to see what happens.