Manchester United take on Atletico Madrid today and it will be the first chance fans get to see Christian Eriksen play for the club.
The Dane is a versatile player, but early signs suggest that Erik ten Hag has one specific role in mind for him which we will likely see today.
In a behind-closed-doors warm-up against Wrexham on Wednesday, Eriksen was deployed as a number eight in a 4-3-3.
And with Donny van de Beek failing to impress against Aston Villa, we can expect to see Eriksen step straight into his role.
Against Steven Gerrard’s side, Fred (playing as the pivot) struggled to connect with both the Dutchman and Bruno Fernandes ahead of him, which led to difficulties progressing the ball through the centre of midfield.
The two eights, on that occasion, pushed up high and rarely offered safe passes out from the back.
But not only is Eriksen an intelligent player who enjoys dropping deep to help build play, he is also a far more expansive passer than Van de Beek.
This is good news for United, as they will not only have a more consistent passing option when working the ball up the pitch, they will also have a player in the role capable of feeding the attackers in a way that neither Donny nor Scott McTominay can.
In an article on United Matchday Magazine, I described Ten Hag’s aggressive rest-defence and how this will allow for a seven-man overload of the opposition’s defence going forward – a very exciting prospect for the coming season.
Eriksen’s knack for creativity in the half-spaces would be a major benefit to making that system work, particularly for United’s right flank.
Jadon Sancho has had a brilliant preseason so far, with Diogo Dalot cementing his position in the right back slot.
But the two players will be hugely benefitted by having a player with Eriksen’s technical ability and football IQ drifting out to support them on the wing.
Sancho is a particularly clever player in combination moves, and he is bound to enjoy a good understanding with the Denmark international.
With Bruno Fernandes a player who often goes looking for the ball, it is easy to imagine the sort of overloads United will be able to create in order to pull Atletico’s out defence to right.
In recent years, United have had a left-sided bias which has often made them far too easy to defend against.
The variation that Eriksen can bring from the number eight position will help Ten Hag’s team avoid such predictable play, as they look to hurt teams from all over the pitch.
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