How Tottenham Hotspur Can Build Their Team Around Christian Eriksen

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How Tottenham Hotspur Can Build Their Team Around Christian Eriksen
Julian Finney/Getty Images
Christian Eriksen on the ball against Crystal Palace. The Dane opened the scoring in Tottenham's 2-0 win.

Christian Eriksen has been up there with Tottenham Hotspur's best performers of recent weeks.

The Denmark international played a leading role in wins over Sunderland and Fulham. Much quieter away at West Bromwich Albion, he still scored a stoppage-time equaliser in the 3-3 draw.

The calendar year of 2014 is shaping up to be a good one altogether for Eriksen. After a mixed first few months in England, the summer 2013 signing has settled to become one of Tottenham's most influential and, to an extent, productive players.

Steve Bardens/Getty Images
Tim Sherwood issues instructions to Eriksen during December's 1-1 draw with West Brom.

Already an integral part of the side, Spurs will clearly look to him to play a prominent role for them next season as well. Where he is best suited continues to divide opinion among all interested parties.

Eriksen's versatility has seen him play all over midfield. Manager Tim Sherwood has favoured him coming in off the left of late, recently confirming to Tom Moore and Ben Pearce of the Tottenham and Wood Green Journal, "I don't want him to play wide." He went on:

He’s a No10 or plays narrow enough on the sides—that’s his position. He plays loose and gets in those sneaky positions, and he can affect it beyond the midfield. If he gets it too deep you’re probably wasting him.

[Luka] Modric was similar. Modric played inside so who knows where he [Eriksen] might end up. He wants to learn and will adapt to what he’s asked to do.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Former Spur Luka Modric has similar creative instincts to Eriksen but is more comfortable mucking in defensively too.

Spurs' former Croatian midfielder is an apt comparison to Eriksen in that creating for team-mates is a significant part of their game. Modric's first season in the Premier League was also predominantly spent operating from the flank before he was deemed suitably adjusted to the more physical demands English football places on a central midfielder.

Though Sherwood noted Eriksen had done a job in central midfield initially after he became manager (and certainly impressed this writer there), it appears he would have more of an attacking remit in mind for him moving forward.

In another fascinating article by Pearce for the Journal on Tuesday, Sherwood talked up Tom Carroll (rather than Eriksen) potentially becoming Modric's eventual heir as the player who "assists the assister."

Chris Brunskill/Getty Images
Eriksen had a quiet game against West Brom but came in off the left to score Spurs' equaliser at the death.

In addition to the aforementioned reference to Eriksen as "a No10 or plays narrow enough in the sides," the Spurs boss also admitted the Dane's preference "to play on the fringes of it and get the ball in between the lines rather than being on the combative side."

Eriksen would appear to have no qualms being assigned less all-round responsibilities. "I'm not a player to defend or run around, I want the ball," he told The Observer's Barney Ronay in March.

The 22-year-old being one less player competing for a central midfield role clarifies, at least somewhat, Sherwood's intention for the playmaker heading into next season. Given the player's admitted distaste for comparative dirty work, you imagine any manager in charge of Spurs would look to free him best they can.

So long as the north London club plays two strikers, as it has recently—and unless it moves away from using wingers like Aaron Lennon and uses something like a 4-3-1-2 formation—Eriksen is looking at continuing his role coming in off the left.

Rui Vieira
Whether it is Sherwood or someone else in charge of Spurs next season, Eriksen's future almost certainly lays further forward. tallies his average pass accuracy this season at 82 per cent, but his completed crosses on a match-by-match basis generally falls way lower (though the increased difficulty of connecting with someone like this should be noted). Sherwood has bet on Eriksen contributing the big moments from here—if not always a whole game's worth of good work—and it has certainly paid off of late.

He has weighed Eriksen's displays here as generally being more productive than peripheral, even if occurrence of the latter is still a cause for concern given the player's quietness out wide in some bigger games.

Against Stoke City last weekend, Eriksen worked well with Harry Kane when he dropped off, either using the striker as a passing option or running into the space vacated by him.

There have been some nice moments with others like Paulinho and Gylfi Sigurdsson. It would be particularly intriguing to see him play alongside the aforementioned Carroll, though. The current Queens Park Rangers loanee could revel picking out Eriksen venturing between the lines. His own movement would make him a useful give-and-go option for the Dane.

Robert Cianflone/Getty Images
Tom Carroll—currently on loan at QPR—is viewed by Sherwood as being Spurs' potential central midfield linchpin moving forward.

Eriksen began his Tottenham career playing behind a lone forward, and a return to the role certainly should not be ruled out.

In addition to his fledgling understanding with Kane, he has also worked well with the similarly strong and tall Emmanuel Adebayor—for instance, benefiting from the striker's knock-down to score against Crystal Palace—in a way he found harder with the more diminutive Roberto Soldado.

Eriksen establishing a good level of anticipation and perhaps even routine, supporting Adebayor or Kane, could give Spurs exciting parameters for variety approaching and within the final third. His own eye for goal allows the former Ajax man to carry his own scoring threat (10 goals for Spurs this season) as well as have the potential to provide assists from more dangerous areas.

Kirsty Wigglesworth
Emmanuel Adebayor celebrating, rather than choking out Eriksen, as it may appear.

Suitable balance on the flanks would be necessary in such a scenario, needing wingers capable of stretching play to make space and also coming in to join in combinations.

Whatever the intention for Eriksen, figuring out how to get the best out of him is neither a chore or an unnecessary luxury—not when the hope is he is going to just get better and better.

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