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Christian Eriksen’s second half against Brighton showed the difference a midfielder not afraid of the ball could make

Arion Armeniakos

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Christian Eriksen’s second half against Brighton showed the difference a midfielder not afraid of the ball could make

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Manchester United’s desperate pursuit of Frenkie de Jong was fully justified after an utterly hapless ‘McFred’ display in the Brighton defeat last Sunday. 

The Reds were painfully toothless in the middle of the park, despite looking much improved in that area in pre-season, and fell 2-1 to Graham Potter’s Seagulls in the Premier League curtain raiser at Old Trafford. 

Many fans heads’ were in their hands even before a ball was kicked as a result of the sheer thought of United going into yet another season with Scott McTominay and Fred at the heart of the midfield – under a brand new manager in Erik ten Hag no less.

This was with no disrespect to the players, who have both been consummate professionals at the club. It was more so just an emphasis on their limitations in context to United’s aspirations. 

Scott McTominay against Brighton in the Premier League. (Man Utd)
Scott McTominay against Brighton in the Premier League. (Man Utd)

They can do a job in some games but in others, they simply don’t have the tools required to navigate tactical adjustments. Potter’s Brighton stumped United with their uncharacteristic approach. The 47-year-old crowded the midfield and opted to go long instead of building out from the back, completely overwhelming the Reds’ engine room. 

The first half was disastrous and everything that United had so evidently worked on in pre-season went flying out the window. All you could hear in the opening 45 minutes were the fans’ cries for a midfielder, any midfielder, to come and be the saviour. 

After the interval, things began to look a little better. Cristiano Ronaldo came off the bench and Christian Eriksen dropped deeper after starting as the false nine due to Ronaldo’s lack of match fitness and Anthony Martial’s injury. 

The forward duo being unable to go from the tip threw a major spanner into Ten Hag’s works and the idea to play without a striker backfired mightily – despite Eriksen being one of the lone standouts in the first half.

In the second, however, we saw the best of the Dane playmaker – despite still playing out of position – and it showed just how much of a difference someone who is not afraid to get on the ball in the deepest sectors of the midfield can make. 

Christian Eriksen against Brighton. (Man Utd)
Christian Eriksen against Brighton. (Man Utd)

Eriksen was certainly more comfortable there than being the furthest man up the pitch. The new No. 14 pulled all the strings and almost single handedly got United in control of the game. 

With the De Jong negotiations still at a stalemate – with the Dutchman’s decision day potentially coming in the next few days – United have reported their interest in French midfielder, Adrien Rabiot

Much to the displeasure of a large chunk of the fanbase, Ten Hag is evidently even more desperate than the fans to bolster his midfield with not many senior options available. However, Eriksen’s display too showed that he can be of use in that area of the pitch. 

In an ideal world, United sign the holding midfielder that their Dutch boss desires and Eriksen can be utilised where he is at his tantalising best – in the No.10 role. But with the world that United have been living in for the best part of the last decade being far from ideal, he may just have to do a job as an impromptu No.6 or No.8. 

The good thing about the potential of that scenario is that the 30-year-old looked excellent, just like a fish in water, after finding himself in the director role. 


Eriksen had 79 touches with a 75 percent pass accuracy against the Seagulls, completing 14 passes into the final third – the most out of all Reds, as per FotMob. He also created 3 chances for his teammates, which too was the most on the team. 

To put that into context, McTominay and Fred had six passes into the final third combined in their time on the pitch. Eriksen doubled that while playing all over the pitch. Fellow newcomer Lisandro Martinez had six on his lonesome, playing at the heart of the defence. Harry Maguire showed off his ability to break the lines and initiate play with 12.

Numbers will never tell us everything about the game but they do reveal a whole lot when accompanied by a failed eye test. What we learned just under a week ago is that United’s midfield is the most pressing issue.

Well, we’ve known that for quite some time, actually. But hopefully, this woeful start to a season – that just 14 days ago had so much promise about it – has sent an even clearer message to the board and owners. The hole is so gaping that even the players are starting to notice

It remains to be seen whether they do. There are just about three weeks left in the summer transfer window and United’s squad depth is far from encouraging. What we do know, however, is that the help will not come before United’s first away trip of the season. 

Ten Hag’s Reds are set to face Eriksen’s former team, Brentford, on Saturday in the Dutchman’s second official game in charge. The 52-year-old will be absolutely chomping at the bit to bounce back and start putting some wind under his players’ wings. 


However, the one thing Ten Hag can’t do is play himself. He has to trust and believe that the players he selects execute his vision better this time around.

In order to ensure that another slip up does not happen, you’d figure that changes to the starting lineup will be made. Ronaldo may be ready to start. Martial could be fit enough to feature. Either one of the two being available would free Eriksen from the shackles of false nine. 

This could in turn give Ten Hag a selection dilemma of sorts. Does Bruno Fernandes start behind the striker – after a disappointing season debut – or does the Dane replace him? Or, maybe you play both? 

A quick, short-term solution to United’s problems could simply be splitting up the limited midfield duo. Eriksen held his own playing deeper, first alongside McTominay, and then Donny van de Beek. Along with his good attacking numbers, he also won 2/2 tackles, had eight recoveries and won 50 percent of his ground duels (3/6). 

Donny van de Beek against Rayo Vallecano. (Alamy)
Donny van de Beek against Rayo Vallecano. (Alamy)

Starting Eriksen as a deep lying playmaker may just be the move for now. Picking his partner is a pick your poison situation. But in the case of the Dane being in there to take care of and distribute the ball, his partner could simply take up the role of a destroyer, tasked with nothing more than just recovering possession. 

Whatever happens, it may prove to be in Ten Hag’s best interest to introduce a few fresh faces for the trip to London. 

The new Reds’ boss needs to find trusty soldiers that are committed to running themselves into the ground while executing his ideas in order to prevent a simply catastrophic start. On Saturday, the search continues as the troops he selected last week failed miserably. 

Topics: Manchester United, Erik Ten Hag, Christian Eriksen, Frenkie De Jong, Fred, Scott Mctominay, Adrien Rabiot

Arion Armeniakos
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