Eriksen Shows What Spurs Have Been Missing

Jul 29, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Christian Eriksen (23) makes a corner kick during the first half of the 2015 MLS All Star Game against the MLS All Stars at Dick
Jul 29, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Christian Eriksen (23) makes a corner kick during the first half of the 2015 MLS All Star Game against the MLS All Stars at Dick /

Admittedly, Crystal Palace didn’t give Spurs much other options. Alan Pardew’s side are consistently happy with sitting back when away from home, absorbing pressure from the opposition before kicking the ball upfield to their pacey wingers. Consequently, Spurs camped out in Palace’s third, playing one, two, three too many passes in each ultimately unsuccessful attack.

For a side like Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs, that’s is an excessive amount of effort in attack. The pressing game the Argentine coach preaches should rely on quick, decisive transitions from defense to attack. Ideally that would mean just a handful of passes between reclaiming the ball and a shot on goal.

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Too often this season those transitions have lost steam as soon as the ball approaches the opposition’s penalty area. Érik Lamela is especially guilty of this. The winger is certainly capable of driving the ball forward, either via passing or dribbling, but for some reason he’s much more prone to play a boring – and impotent – squared pass to a midfielder or even the occasional pass back to the defense instead.

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Such delays allow teams like Palace to reset their defense after losing possession and thereby significantly reduce Spurs options in attack. How many times did a Spurs attacker fruitlessly pass a ball into what should be an ideal shooting position right at the top of the penalty box, only to have the effort blocked by the mass of Palace’s defense? Per FourFourTwo’s Statszone, the total shots from that area total about 13, nine of which were either off target or blocked by a Palace defender.

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Pochettino no doubt sees this for what it is: a glitch in his system. The pressing game is intact and actually improving, but that quick transitional element is simply not always there. That is until Christian Eriksen walks onto the pitch.

The Danish playmaker has been absent with a knee injury since Spurs’ third game of the season against Leicester. Tottenham has felt that absence most palpably those times where the deeper midfield struggles to connect to the attacking front four. Eriksen’s assist Sunday shows what else the team has been missing without him: directness.

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Heung-Min Son’s goal – the only one of the game – came directly off a ball recovered just outside Spurs’ penalty area by Lamela that was then deftly shuttled forward, finding Eriksen who subsequently managed the single pass forward to the on-rushing Korean. It was a move that featured all of two passes that spanned the majority of the pitch’s length and accomplished what no other Spurs attack had managed before or after.

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Now, of course, that situation was a rarity. Palace simply didn’t attack often enough to make such an open route to goal even an option, much less doable. When it was available, it took Eriksen’s presence on the pitch to ensure Spurs capitalized. It was a goal that is illustrative of Eriksen’s contributions to the attack.

He’s perhaps the only player who can be expected to regularly feature for Spurs that understands direct play as something more than getting as many people in the opposition box as possible. That is certainly an advantage, but waiting for those conditions also allows time for the opposition to create their own ideal defensive situation by pulling people back. If instead Spurs simply latched onto the opportunities afforded to them, even if it means playing a ostensibly low-probability ball forward to the sole attacking player

Eriksen’s accuracy and vision make him the best pivot between the pressing game and the attack on this Spurs team. His substitute appearance Sunday only solidifies that fact. Nacer Chadli and Lamela have improved in many areas – Chadli in his wide play, Lamela in his pressing – but neither can hope to duplicate the metronomic quality of Eriksen’s play. Both should worry about their place in the starting XI when Eriksen returns fully fit.

Next: Spurs Gut Reaction Rant: Win vs Crystal Palace