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Why Eriksen to Spurs should be a no-brainer for Conte

08:00 WAT 23/04/2022
Christian Eriksen Brentford Premier League 2021-22
The playmaker is enjoying a renaissance at Brentford but would add plenty of creativity behind Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Dejan Kulusevski

With each passing game it becomes more likely that Christian Eriksen will not be a Brentford player next season.

Perhaps that is not surprising – his talent was always above mid-table Premier League level – yet nobody anticipated his spell under Thomas Frank going quite this well.

Brentford have won all five of the matches in which Eriksen has started, winning 38 percent of their entire points tally for the 2021-22 Premier League season in the process.

Eriksen has scored a goal and assisted two more, although his contribution goes way beyond those numbers.

Eriksen, in fact, looks reborn, not just seizing the moment but playing in a subtly new way, taking on a different position and a more central role at Brentford to reflect his status within the club.

Inevitably, this spell of form has led to rumours of Eriksen returning to Tottenham Hotspur – where he would receive a hero's welcome despite a difficult end to his time in North London – and reuniting with Antonio Conte, under whom he won the Serie A title at Inter last season.

On paper, it is a perfect match; the right place for Eriksen to slip in seamlessly ahead of the World Cup this winter.

And Conte already stated back in February that "it would be good for me to have him again", while a high-profile free transfer is bound to go down well with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy.

However, it is not so clear whether there is space for Eriksen in Conte's 3-4-3 at Spurs, or if he would be happy as a squad member after being the top dog at Brentford.

Tactically speaking, Eriksen looks to be a good fit, especially now he is excelling in a deeper midfield role at Brentford.

Unlike during his time at Spurs or at Inter, Eriksen is no longer spending so much time in the final third.

Instead, he tends to find himself as the deepest of Frank's midfield three, collecting the ball from a centre-back to play a line-splitting pass into the forwards.

Acting as the side's lynchpin from within a more conservative setup than he has been used to, Eriksen is enjoying seeing more of the ball, taking advantage of being the central figure in a team who generally do not hold the majority of possession (44.6 per cent average across those five wins).

Eriksen's press resistance from deep is helping Brentford work through a territorially-dominant opponent, and only once they have worked into the final third does he begin to roam into No.10 positions, linking neatly with Bryan Mbeumo and Ivan Toney.

This just happens to be exactly what Spurs are lacking under Conte, who bucks the trend among top managers by deploying a midblock, meaning Tottenham often regain possession – and look to build vertically through the lines – from the same areas as Brentford.

Throughout Conte's tenure so far Tottenham have struggled to create momentum in stodgy first halves, only to improve in the second once instructed by the manager to start hitting longer passes up to Harry Kane as he drops off the front, ready to find runners Son Heung-min and Dejan Kulusevski.

Although this is working more frequently of late - changing the complexion of wins against Newcastle United and Aston Villa – the switch shows Conte's frustration at Spurs' inability to get Plan A working.

Their problem is that by starting so low, and in a division where most teams will press during a build-up phase, Conte's football needs a line-splitting creative midfielder who can perform from deep within his own half.

Currently Spurs repeatedly get stuck making sideways moves, no matter which combination of Rodrigo Bentancur (their best at these forward passes, but not good enough), Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Harry Winks, or Oliver Skipp starts in these anchor roles.

But with Eriksen spotting the more acute forward ball into Tottenham's front three, Conte's desire to play using artificial transitions – vertical build-ups that have the appearance of counter-attacks, like Kulusevski's opener against Manchester City - can work more consistently.

The only stumbling block is whether Eriksen has the defensive qualities or positional awareness to work in Tottenham's two-man midfield, where high work-rate is required to cover the yards across the width of the pitch.

At Brentford, as at Inter and throughout his time at Spurs, Eriksen has been operating in a midfield three, by and large roaming the pitch with the freedom that comes from having two workmanlike central midfielders supporting him.

Tottenham surely will not be moving away from the 3-4-3 any time soon; not with Son, Kane, and Kulusevski creating such a dynamic partnership up front.

This is the most likely reason why Eriksen would only be signed as a squad player, featuring either in matches when Conte wishes to resort to a more conservative 3-5-2 or brought off the bench to add creative impetus when Spurs are struggling.

In a World Cup year and with Eriksen entering the twilight of his career, he may feel that playing a starring role at a smaller club is of greater value.

As for Tottenham, though, re-signing Eriksen on a free transfer is a no-brainer.