Christian Eriksen

As Christian Eriksen made his way back to the away dressing room at half-time at Craven Cottage on Sunday afternoon, he must have felt as though a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders.

At the 20th attempt, the Denmark international scored his first goal in Manchester United colours, converting Bruno Fernandes’ low cross to put the Reds in front against Fulham. The midfielder gambled on getting into the penalty area and found himself in the right place at the right time to slide the ball home.

It was nothing more than what his stellar performances this season have deserved. He has been excellent since arriving at Old Trafford in July, justifying why Erik ten Hag was so intent of securing his signature.

He has bossed proceedings in midfield time and time again, meaning he has quickly become something of a fans’ favourite in M16. He has transformed the outlook on United’s midfield with his class and quality on the ball earning regular plaudits.

At the time of joining United, however, some supporters, journalists and pundits alike all questioned just where the Dane would fit in. United already had a seasoned attacking midfielder in Fernandes, were still pursuing Frenkie de Jong’s signature and needed a world-class defensive midfielder.

Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata had both been moved on at the end of last season following the expiry of their contracts and all of the pointers indicated that Eriksen would be competing with Fernandes for the No.10 berth, although there was a general feeling that he would often have to play second-fiddle to the Portuguese international.

Ten Hag, however, was desperate to gain a sense of control in United’s midfield and saw Eriksen as the player that could bring just that, even though he deployed him as a false-nine and as a defensive midfielder in his first two competitive appearances for the club.

But after being deployed in a free-roaming No.8 role in United’s 2-1 win over Liverpool at Old Trafford back in August, it was fair to say that Ten Hag had found the Dane’s best role. He flourished in that position that evening, acting as the shuttle between the Reds’ defence and Fernandes just behind the front three.

It has become Eriksen’s natural habitat ever since. He has gone from strength-to-strength in that area of the team, helped by the presence of Casemiro alongside him, and is now the orchestrator of much of United’s good play.

But while his ability to play slightly deeper has probably caught most people by surprise this term, given how he always operated as an out-and-out attacking midfielder during his time at Tottenham Hotspur, current Spurs boss Antonio Conte won’t have been.

That is because the Italian, who worked with Eriksen at Inter Milan, once outlined how the 30-year-old had the ability to produce the same level of magic in a more reserved role, continuing to be as influential and creative.

“We have to get the best out of our squad,” said Conte, speaking back in January 2021. “It is inevitable to have him [Eriksen] behind Brozo [Marcelo Brozovic] because we don’t have a player like this in the squad who can be a playmaker in front of the defence line.

“We’re trying to get the best out of Christian in that position, even if he’s already playing as an attacking midfielder and a midfielder who goes deeper. This is good for the team and I myself have the opportunity to use it in a different role in midfield.”

Conte’s admission about Eriksen’s ability to play deeper has certainly been proven right in recent months. Eriksen has flourished in an unexpected position, giving United an extra element of creativity in midfield.

Fernandes, in the No.10 berth, is widely considered as the Reds’ architect-in-chief, but Eriksen, pulling the strings behind him, has been just as creative. He is the player that makes United tick.

For all of the millions of pounds United spent on new recruits during the summer, Eriksen, snapped up on a free transfer after turning down the offer of a new contract at Brentford, has been their best. He is their orchestrator and you could now not imagine their midfield without him.

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