Cartilage Free Captain is once again reviewing each of Spurs' first team players and evaluating their 2015-16 season. The series continues today with Danish attacking midfielder Christian Eriksen.
Late Match-Winning Goals: 1
What Went Right?
Christian Eriksen is a tricky player to analyze because much of his quality is hard to notice initially. He doesn't score nearly as many goals as Harry Kane or Dele Alli. He doesn't shrug off defenders like Mousa Dembele. He doesn't hassle and harry the opposition like Erik Lamela. But there are several things he does better than anyone else in the team—and all of these things are essential to Tottenham's success.
First, as this fantastic piece analyzing Pochettino's press demonstrates, Eriksen's positional intelligence sometimes makes him even more effective pressing the ball than Lamela or Dembele. Lamela and Dembele run for days. Eriksen is just always in the right spot. You need lots of energy to make Pochettino's high-pressing system work, but you also need a lot of positional intelligence and no one in the squad has that quality on the level that Eriksen does.
Second, Eriksen is an elite passer with few rivals in the Premier League. Name a sort of pass a midfielder might need to make and Eriksen can probably do it. Thus he can play any kind of passing midfield role you ask him to. He can play in a deeper midfield role as more of a Modric-style deep-lying playmaker. He can also play as a number 10 or as a wide playmaker in the mold of a David Silva or Santi Cazorla as he was used in the 2012-13 season by Arsenal.
Third, Eriksen's positional intelligence means he doesn't need to run or tackle as much as Lamela, which means he almost never has to be subbed off late due to exhaustion or flirting with a second yellow card.
All of these qualities came up at some point in the season. Eriksen's under-rated ability pressing the ball was every bit as essential to Tottenham's aggressive high press as the more heralded work of Dembele and Lamela. His ability as a passer allowed him to play anywhere across the front three or even in more of a midfield three in the games when Spurs shifted toward more of a 4-3-3 shape with Eriksen partnering Dembele ahead of Dier. And his ability to stay fresh for a full 90 came up as he scored a thrilling late winner in Tottenham's late season triumph against Manchester City.
What Went Wrong?
It's hard to find too much to criticize about Eriksen's season. That said, there are two minor critiques that could be made: First, Eriksen did not seem to be as dangerous from set pieces this season as he was in his first two seasons at Spurs. Second, he could perhaps have scored more goals. Paul Riley's method has him at 5.5 xG for the season, but he only scored four goals from open play this season. Thanks to the goal-scoring exploits of Dele Alli as well as Harry Kane's stunning form, Spurs still scored enough goals this year. But if there's a way for both Eriksen and Lamela to improve, scoring more goals is probably it.
Spurs fans everywhere keep praying that Eriksen's remarkable qualities remain largely unnoticed and they thank the soccer gods that Denmark didn't go to the EUROs. (Sorry, Christian.) Spurs arguably have the best passing midfielder in England not named Mesut Ozil or David Silva. But while Ozil and Silva routinely receive major recognition for their abilities, Eriksen has gone largely unnoticed. Spurs fans should hope that continues to be true, though it will be harder now that the team is set to compete in the Champions League.