Football Features

Christian Eriksen to Manchester United? Three roles Erik ten Hag might have in mind

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 13:41, 16 June 2022

Christian Eriksen has been linked with a free transfer to Manchester United.

Having fully recovered from the heart attack that nearly claimed his life a year ago at Euro 2020, the 30 year-old Dane just finished a six month stint with Brentford which confirmed his comeback as a top tier professional.

That contract has now expired, and rumour has it that Manchester United have approached Eriksen about joining Erik ten Hag’s revolution at United. The Dane would be the first signing of the Ten Hag era and instantly add a touch of class on and off the field.

Off the field he is an obvious fit, an experienced leader with a humble personality and a storied career that would allow him to act as a mentor for some of the younger players in the squad (essentially filling the role Juan Mata held for years).

On the field, though? Where does he fit? We’ve got three possible options:

“A Bruno Back-up”

Attacking midfielder

Key to Manchester United’s recent fortunes has been Bruno Fernandes as a no. 10. The Portuguese international has been outstandingly prolific, even with his struggles in 2021/22 he still ranks fourth in the Premier League for direct goal involvements (36 goals and 25 assists) since his debut in 2020. He also ranks second in that time for big chances created.

He’s fundamental to the way United play, but he is only one man. He needs to be rested and not run into the ground. To that end, Eriksen could step in and fill in for Fernandes when the Portuguese needs to be rotated out.

Since he made his debut with Brentford, Eriksen has played 11 times and created 30 chances, which ranks third among all Premier League players in that time. He had four assists overall but his impact on Brentford’s play was similar to the way Fernandes impacted United in 2020, so there’s no doubt he could fill-in for Fernandes.

Schöne Vibrations”

Central midfielder

Much as Eriksen’s Brentford turn was positive, he played only 11 times for less than 1,000 minutes. It could be taken as a sign that while he can play, he maybe is only suited for cameo roles. But what if Eriksen’s Brentford’s season was more of an extended “pre-season” where the 30 year-old Dane worked his way back to full and complete fitness after his heart attack?

That would mean he would be able to take full part in 2022/23. So, is there a full-time role he could assume at Manchester United and play it for the whole season? Or at least be the main starter? Sure: central midfield

After six weird, mostly disappointing years, Paul Pogba has departed Old Trafford. This has left the Red Devils with a gaping hole at centre midfield, one that they would have to fill with Fred or James Garner right now. Eriksen would be an upgrade on both and unlike Frenkie de Jong would cost the club no transfer fee and much smaller wages.

Eriksen is definitely an attacking option to play central midfield, but so was Paul Pogba and anyway, if Ten Hag implements his system correctly then United will be a coherent and co-ordinated pressing side that look to dominate the ball, making Eriksen in centre midfield more viable.

And it’s not like the Dane is a defensive dilettante. He put in 13 tackles during his half-season with Brentford, with only the relentless Vitaly Janelt and Christian Norgaard having more. And only Janelt and Mbuemo won possession more in the attacking third than Eriksen (7).

Eriksen is a former Ajax player and a pass master. In his time at Brentford he attempted and completed more passes than anyone else (440/544) as he became a reliable creative axis for the side, a role he could easily fill at United.

Moreover if United are truly obsessed with Frenkie de Jong, then there’s no reason they couldn’t pair Eriksen and De Jong together behind Bruno Fernandes. At first it seems like a ridiculously open set-up, but then recall that Ten Hag guided Ajax to the Champions League semi-finals with De Jong next to Lasse Schone, who was a 30 year-old converted attacking midfielder who excelled at set-pieces.

Alright, Schone had spent more time playing deep than Eriksen has, but he also was never as good as Eriksen. Consider that in their run to the Champions League semis in 2018/19, Schone made just 22 tackles ranking him sixth among Ajax players and less than his midfield partners Frenkie de Jong (27) and Donny van de Beek (26).

He pitched in defensively, for sure, but what Schone brought to the Ajax side was primarily passing, coordination and control. In 2018/19 Schone’s 496/568 passes completed ranked fourth in the side, with only De Jong, Daley Blind and Matthijs De Ligt ahead of him (and he also had the third-most chances created with 18).

He might need to work a little bit harder than expected if United sign Frenkie de Jong, but even if they sign a more orthodox no. 6, playing central midfield is a role that Christian Eriksen can fill almost perfectly, with James Garner as his understudy.

“The New Tadic”

False nine/winger

One less likely role for Eriksen to fill could be taking the duties occupied by Dusan Tadic under Erik ten Hag. In 2018/19 Tadic shocked the world when he turned up at Ajax playing as a false nine and took the Eredivisie and Champions League by storm. The Serbian scored a massive 38 times that season and was key to everything Ajax did.

In 2021/22 he changed positions again, thanks to the arrival of Sebastian Haller as a no. 9. Tadic converted himself into a creative winger and from there he created more chances (141) and more big chances (32) than anyone else in Europe’s top seven leagues.

Eriksen could easily slot into the creative winger role, playing off a no. 9 Eriksen could provide relief and rotation for Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Elanga.

However, should Manchester United fail to sign a no. 9 then Eriksen could also be deployed as a false nine, dropping out of the striking zones to create space that the likes of Ronaldo could exploit.