The loss against Newcastle exposed the brittleness in Manchester United’s midfield. They could hardly exert any control and were brushed aside on Sunday.
Manager Erik ten Hag will be worried as he is aware of how limited his current options are. Scott McTominay and Fred hardly have the passing attributes required to excel in the manager’s system.
It is clear to see why loan signing Marcel Sabitzer has not got many chances to shine at his parent club Bayern Munich. United are missing an elite ball progressor and someone who can receive the ball under pressure. That player is Christian Eriksen.
United’s games are usually helter-skelter with an element of end-to-end action with the Red Devils failing to keep control of the ball for long and sustained periods.
United’s depleted midfield
Ten Hag is aware that this sort of uncontrolled football suits his team at present as they can take advantage through their pacey wingers. However, this was not always the case, especially prior to February mainly due to the presence of the Dane.
There could finally be a ray of light emerging from the darkness as the Dutch boss revealed that there is a chance that Eriksen could be available as early as next week.
A lot of eyebrows were raised when the Dane joined the Reds in the summer. The consensus was that he would be a backup player who would come in to change the game when needed. But Ten Hag had other plans.
He was building a team from scratch after losing so many players during the off-season and he needed someone who could keep control of the ball and manoeuvre it in a composed manner.
The former Ajax coach realised that the weapons he had were not suited to the eventual possession-based style that he was attempting to bring to Old Trafford and he needed a conductor in the centre of the park. That is where the 31-year-old excels as compared to the rest of the United midfield.
Both Fred and Scott McTominay provide pressing and physicality but vertical passing is not their strongest suit. The only other player capable of picking passes and unlocking low-blocks is Bruno Fernandes but he has the tendency to take high-risks which often times leads to a breakdown in attacks.
But the Danish international takes his time, waits for his moment before picking one from a variety of through balls to destabilize the opposition defence. His passing is almost ethereal at times as he always manages to pick the right pass while keeping the tempo of the attack going.
Eriksen’s superlative skill-set
He has a wand of a right foot that can scoop the ball over the defence or cross to devastating effect. Ten Hag likes his teams to play vertically and his passing between the lines is impeccable. Compared to his peers, he often seems to have an extra second with the ball and he makes it count more often than not.
And the statistics back up the claim that Eriksen was the one that made United tick while controlling the game much better. Despite missing two months of action, Eriksen remains the player with the second-most assists this season with nine and the most in the Premier League with seven.
That is not all as he holds the best pass completion percentage among all midfielders this season with a whopping 85%. He also is the player with the second-most chances created with 44 and holds the second-best chance creation rate per game with 1.42.
His repertoire of skills goes beyond all of this. He was also effective with his crossing which had the highest success rate among the squad at the time of his injury.
The former Ajax coach, at the time of Eriksen’s signing, had mentioned how his ethereal passing quality could benefit United and he could also come in and do his fair share of the dirty work but in a more refined sense as compared to United’s Brazilian midfield destroyer Casemiro.
At the time of his untimely injury, he was second in terms of ball recoveries. How much Ten Hag trusts the Danish star can be seen from the fact that he despite missing two months with his ankle injury, he has played the eighth-highest number of minutes for the club this season, more than the likes of Antony, Raphael Varane and Fred.
Eriksen can help United to finish the season on a strong note
Ten Hag spoke glowingly of his acquisition. “Eriksen brings creativity in the squad and can play in offensive midfield or in a lower position. He will bring a lot to the team and will affect our possession and also out of possession.
“I know him for a long time because everyone knows he can develop in Ajax, so I knew him from the Netherlands but also when we faced him. As a manager we faced him, so I know his capabilities and I was so happy that we could sign him.”
His return could be a catalyst as the Reds have the chance to add to their Carabao Cup triumph this season as they have already secured a place in the FA Cup semifinals and Europa League quarterfinals. A place in the Premier League top four also needs to be secured.
Eriksen’s return would allow United to better control the ball and he can, in conjunction with McTominay and Sabitzer, give the side the licence to play more aggressively even without Casemiro.
And when the Brazilian and the Dane start playing together again, United will once again have that blend of steel and silk that they long craved for before the start of the current season. Eriksen often gets overlooked due to the brilliance of a Marcus Rashford or Fernandes but it is he who kept the Reds ticking.
“I think he proved from the first day how important his is to our game. He can make a game for you, make the switch of play, he sees a pass between the lines, make the final pass and go into attack to score a goal,” Ten Hag triumphantly claimed earlier on in the season. With United needing him more than ever, it is finally time to welcome back Eriksen.
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