Tottenham have taken the Europa League seriously this season and won all six of their group stages matches against what was, in truth, a weak band of teams. However, last week saw the North London side travel to Ukrainian team Dnipro and suffer their first defeat of this season’s tournament, their loss coming after reported Liverpool, Yevhen Konoplyanka, scored a penalty as the game neared its end.
The 1-0 away loss places Tim Sherwood’s side in a precarious position in the second leg of this game, as they must attempt to score at least twice while simultaneously stopping Dnipro getting the vital away goal which will likely see Spurs exit the Europa League in the first knockout phase after such a promising group stage. This will force Sherwood to seek a balance between the two styles of football, and, for this reason, Christian Eriksen must start for Tottenham.
Eriksen was an unused substitute during the weekend’s 1-0 defeat to Norwich and the Dane’s frustration levels must have been exceedingly high as he witnessed his team take just seven shots, despite having 54% of the possession. It appeared that the Lilywhites were lacking a creative force in attack, something which Eriksen, who has created the most chances in the Spurs squad, could have corrected.
In just 16 appearances, the summer signing has created 31 goalscoring opportunities and, though Kyle Walker has created the same number, the full-back has featured in every Spurs game bar two this season; Eriksen, meanwhile, has missed 11 games whether through injury or non-selection. Perhaps Sherwood believed, after Spurs’ 4-0 triumph over Newcastle prior to the Norwich defeat, that his side could cope without his young Danish midfielder; it is not a mistake he should make again on Thursday night.
Eriksen attacking prowess is clear. However, an under-appreciated aspect of his game is his defensive work-rate and ability; although the Dane is noted for his dynamic presence near the opposition’s penalty area, he also works very hard in defence in a way which is not dissimilar to the demands which Jose Mourinho puts on his attacking players. As his Action Areas in the game against Hull shows below, Eriksen shows a willingness to adopt a more withdrawn position, and this will be vital in nullifying Dnipro’s attacks in this week’s game.
Indeed, the playmaker has won an impressive 57% of his 28 attempted tackles this season, demonstrating his defensive ability. With the modern day attacker becoming more and more involved in contributing to his side’s efforts without the ball as managers react to increasingly advanced full-backs, Eriksen’s skill in this area cannot be undervalued. Indeed, the 22-year-old has completed a higher percentage of his tackles than Spurs centre-back Michael Dawson (44%) – although this does reveal the English defender’s frailties, it also highlights the talent which Eriksen possess in this area. After Konoplyanka attempted an astounding 15 take-ons in the first-leg (and completed an almost as impressive eight of them) to leave Kyle Naughton floundering (he completed just 5/13 tackles), whoever plays right-back for Spurs this week will be grateful for the extra support they will receive from a diligent Eriksen.
It will be necessary for Tottenham to play a finely balanced style of football against Dnipro on Thursday if they hope to progress to the next round of the Europa League, and, consequently, Eriksen must be selected; he offers solidarity in defence, while his creative abilities are, statistically, the best in the Tottenham team. If Sherwood opts to start without Eriksen, as he did in the first-leg of this tie against, it could be to the cost of his side’s European ambitions.