You’re thinking this is going to be about Lukaku, Bastoni, Barella, or even De Vrij, right? On the high key side, you’re right because they are indeed important, but we’re going to look at this in a different direction.
The player I want to shine the spotlight on is Christian Eriksen. Crazy, right? Eriksen couldn’t crack the lineup, looked disinterested in life for a year and nonchalantly jogged around and only looked for a four yard pass backward or if he’s feeling excited, take a corner or free-kick.
The Case for Eriksen
While I have always believed in him, now is his time to step into the spotlight and show everyone why he belongs on this team and why he is the most important player to bring home Inters first Scudetto since the stone age.
As we know, Antonio Conte has been working pretty intensely to re-teach Eriksen how to play soccer. Conte wants specific players to do specific things and follow his game plan no matter what happens. Nothing new from a world-class coach. What makes this such a unique case is that Eriksen was already considered, borderline, if not actually, a world-class player.
The work put in by these two has instantly started to show results. With Brozovic becoming one of the most inconsistent players in the lineup, Conte needed to find something new. The Scudetto race is closer than ever with first place in sight, Inter simply could not afford to let that chance slip up. Conte found a plan B, Eriksen will play as a regista. An already established attacking midfielder switching to play as a defensive midfielder, wait…what?
Didn’t Gasperini try that with Wesley Sneijder way back when and it ended horribly? Wasn’t Kovacic supposed to do that too? Breaks my heart, but yes, that was the first thought that crossed my mind. Then we have to think about the players that thrived, Pirlo or even Brozovic. My only issue with this is why did it take so long for Conte to try to make it work with Eriksen? He knew about the transfer restrictions from the summer time, but waited until halfway through the season to finally do something about it.
In my honest, unprofessional opinion, the best thing to happen during Eriksen’s transition to the regista role was that his second feature came during a game where Conte was suspended against Benevento. I know what you’re saying, it’s only Benevento, right? But I want to make one point why this was particularly important for Eriksen himself.
Since this global pandemic, broadcasts have enabled us to hear the coaches and players interact on the field. When Eriksen plays, I make it a point to pay close attention to what goes on. In every game, until Benevento, Conte is hounding him. If he’s on the field for 90 minutes, Conte is what I call “holding the controller” for 90 minutes every time he gets the ball. Every step Eriksen took had feedback from Conte. Every time he received the ball, all you hear is Conte yelling instructions at him. For some players, it is impossible to play with the manager yelling in your ear. The relevance, Eriksen has looked nervous in every game he has ever played in for Inter. Scared to make a mistake, scared to be in the wrong space, because if he is Conte yells at him. If Conte yells at him, he will play less.
Eriksen’s performance against Benevento was stellar. Electric. Reinvigorating. He looked comfortable pulling the strings to Inters midfield, and he did it with such ease touching the ball well over 100 times. Why is that? There was no Conte to yell at him for 90 minutes allowing him to showcase why he should have a starting spot in the lineup without constant pressure to perform.
Now, where does this tie into his importance? As said earlier, Brozovic has become waaaay too inconsistent in the most important piece of Conte’s puzzle. We saw in the Juve and Lazio games what Conte plans to do with both Brozovic and Eriksen. Rotate them. A lot. Brozovic was man marked out of the first leg against Juventus. He had no place on that field to do anything. This was an obvious problem. Conte figured the solution was rotation. We saw the official adjustment in the Lazio game and it’s pretty safe to say it worked.
Brozovic and Eriksen both provide the attacking vision to create from all angles of the field and more importantly, they are also very good at shooting. For the time being, as Eriksen gets more comfortable, only shoots once, maybe twice per game, not necessarily the most dangerous of attempts, but what is important is the idea. If Eriksen gets into a rhythm where he can take three or four shots in games, with his technique and ability to shoot with both feet very well going forward, it will be a problem. Key passes have become a fascinating stat in recent years, rightfully so, even in this category, Eriksen is among the leaders in key passes in the games he is heavily featured in (I don’t think the stat is that exact and sometimes miss a key pass or two but that’s up for debate). Eriksen’s vision and ability to read the game have not only benefit Brozovic and his partners in the midfield, but it is most crucial to the strikers in front of him. The more accustomed they are with Eriksen in the lineup, the more clear cut chances they will find. We’ve already seen the balls Eriksen is capable of playing, though, to feet, and the most dangerous ones so far have been diagonal crosses to the far post runners, including Achraf Hakimi.
We have also seen Eriksen make defensive adjustments to his game. His positioning and ability to read the game allow him to find interceptions and break up opposing passing lanes. Brozovic has been very successful intercepting the ball this season, Eriksen has shown immediate improvements which will be imperative to their partnership. As one of, if not the best defensive team in Serie A, it only makes sense that Conte would require Eriksen to contribute more defensively. Alternatively, this may not really be 100% on the defensive side of the game, Eriksen has an incredible work rate, and he always has. In the games where he plays 90+ minutes, he covers the most distance of all players on the field. If I am not mistaken, in the Fiorentina game, he covered the most ground of all players…by almost a whole kilometer.
Since scoring that beautiful free-kick against Milan, we have seen a staff and fanbase do a complete 180 on how they feel about Eriksen. He has always had the ability to be a great player for Inter, but now it seems he will finally get the chance to showcase his abilities through whatever tasks Conte wants him to do. If he can get consistent time in the starting lineup for Inter, he will solidify a Scudetto win for this fanbase suffering from mediocrity and irrelevance for a full decade.