It is only just over a year since Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest but his celebrated return to football and big impact at Brentford has now taken his incredible comeback story to Old Trafford.
The midfielder is heading to Manchester and set to be a key component of Erik ten Hag’s plans to rejuvenate United.
Significantly, United boss Ten Hag has already played a role in Eriksen’s tale, handing the Dane the opportunity to regain fitness at former club Ajax in January, before his deadline day move to Brentford.
Back then there was uncertainty about what the future held for Eriksen and whether he could seriously return to the pro ranks, let alone recapture his best form.
But Ten Hag and Eriksen will reconnect this summer with the playmaker re-established as one of Europe’s finest creators. He is potentially an ideal recruit for a United side which badly lacked his composure and craft in possession last season.
United were eighth for goals scored in 2021/22 and, remarkably, 18th for goals from set pieces. Eriksen will surely enhance both stats.
From his first Premier League start for Brentford on March 5, he ranked third in the division for chances created and passes into the final third. Two of his four assists came from dead-ball situations, where he was consistently excellent with his delivery, while his ball-striking from outside the box earned him a couple of fine goals for Denmark on his return to the international stage.
That form was a call-back to his brilliant days between 2013 and 2020 in a Tottenham shirt, where he recorded more assists, created more chances and scored more goals from outside the box than any other player in the Premier League.
His impact was transformative for a Brentford side who had dipped after a strong start to their maiden Premier League campaign. With Eriksen pulling the strings, they won seven of the 10 games he played. They won just six of the other 28.
“Christian is a top player, an unbelievable character and he brings quality and calmness to the team,” Brentford boss Thomas Frank said after Eriksen’s standout display in the 4-1 win at Chelsea. “You can give it to Christian and he’ll always find a solution. We never knew how quickly it would take to get to this level but it’s impressive how quickly.”
The hope for Ten Hag is that Eriksen can provide a similar uplift to the fortunes of a United side which managed just 12 points more than the top-flight newcomers. But where exactly he fits in remains to be seen.
Eriksen excelled on the left side of a midfield three at Brentford, either as part of a 4-3-3 or 3-5-2/5-3-2 formation.
In contrast, 4-2-3-1 was Ten Hag’s go-to set-up at Ajax and is believed to be his primary plan at United – although Cristiano Ronaldo’s future could change that.
In that system, Eriksen could challenge Bruno Fernandes for the No. 10 role. The Portuguese was talismanic when he first arrived in the north west. However, he was far from his best last season and although he remained United’s chief creator, Eriksen (2.9) out-performed Fernandes (2.6) for chances created per 90 minutes.
The Danish star also registered a better passing accuracy, underlining his suitability to Ten Hag’s style, which requires players to maintain possession to sustain pressure on the opponent.
Alternatively, Eriksen could move out to the left side, popping up in the pockets of space he found so effectively for Brentford, or to the right, where he starred for Spurs. That would allow Ten Hag to deploy both of the playmakers – but would put Eriksen in competition with flying wingers such as Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford.
Those options in wide areas may in fact give Ten Hag flexibility for different challenges. But with Eriksen in their ranks they will be stronger either way.
Spurs’ Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Eriksen’s Denmark team-mate, has described him as “the main focus” for the national team. At United there are other stars – and there will need to be others recruited to evolve this squad into one capable of playing and excelling in the style Ten Hag envisages.
But Eriksen looks like an ideal fit for Ten Hag and, after a remarkable 12 months, there will be a lot of focus on how the next chapter in his story plays out.
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