When Christian Eriksen first came to Tottenham from Ajax, there were question marks about where he should be played. He seemed to have the skillset of a number 10, but there were question marks about his size as well as his familiarity with the role. Ajax had always played a 4-3-3 under Frank de Boer, after all.
But Andre Villas-Boas tried him as a number 10 and he had real success there, but was often betrayed by poor finishing from his teammates. Then under Tactics Tim Sherwood, Eriksen moved into a wide role, sometimes even a wide role in a flat 4-4-2. Here he had some success, but also struggled to influence games at times, although one suspects that is more due to Sherwood’s bad management than to any fault in the Dane.
Under Mauricio Pochettino, he’s had a more steady role as a wide attacking midfielder in Pochettino’s relatively narrow 4-2-3-1 shape. To be sure, this is a great role for him. His positional intelligence makes him a pressing asset second only to Erik Lamela in terms of defensive value added to the team. The wide positioning also means that Eriksen can regularly find space to receive the ball, much like how Manchester City has traditionally used David Silva and how Arsenal used Santi Cazorla in his first season at the Emirates. Once he’s on the ball, he can look to play the ball into a dangerous central area, swing it to the opposite flank, or even look for a little reverse ball to the overlapping fullback, typically Danny Rose.
After this past weekend though, I wonder if his best role, at least while Mousa Dembélé is suspended, isn’t in a deeper midfield position. Let’s review the problem from the weekend’s game: As Kevin McCauley demonstrated, Spurs simply did not get enough balls played into central attacking areas with the Dier-Wanyama midfield. As a result, Spurs were forced to funnel their attacking play through their fullbacks. And, indeed, the goal came through just such an attack as Toby Alderweireld charged forward and played the ball to Kyle Walker, whose cross Erik Lamela headed home.
Of McCauley’s three suggestions, only one of them seems particularly viable to me—swap Winks for Wanyama. I am not particularly confident that either Dier or Wanyama can suddenly be made into more balanced box-to-box players simply by giving them different directions in the pregame. Instead, I think a change in personnel is needed. Swapping Winks for Wanyama might work—I made a case for it in the preseason, after all.
That said, I am now wondering if there isn’t a good case for dropping Eriksen into the midfield two and bringing Vincent Janssen into the first XI.
Here are the benefits to this approach: We drop Eriksen into more of a deep creator role, a la the role played by Luka Modric during his time at Spurs. Eriksen is also deceptively strong and clever on the ball so he may be able to replicate some of the possession retention and disruptive running that Dembélé provides. The move also allows us to fit Dele Alli, Kane, Janssen, Lamela, and Eriksen into the same XI.
Here are the downsides to the move: This is likely to create a remarkably lopsided formation as we would likely see Alli shifted toward the left sided attack role that Eriksen typically plays with Kane playing behind Janssen. Alli, however, is likely to play much narrower than Eriksen does and so the team could become excessively narrow, which could have the effect of making it far easier to defend against us. It is also possible that an Eriksen-Dier midfield won’t have enough muscle in the center of the park. Finally, losing Eriksen’s pressing in the final third would be a blow, although a foursome of Kane, Janssen, Alli, and Lamela will not lack for work rate or defensive initiative.
I’m curious what the hoddlers think. Should Eriksen to midfield be a thing? Or are we better off going Dier-Winks? Or do we stick with Dier-Wanyama and hope that one of them can figure out how to be more of a proper box-to-box player?