Christian Eriksen is reported to be open to new challenges away from White Hart Lane next season. The Danish international joined Spurs in 2013, as part of Andre Villas Boas’ spending of the Gareth Bale money but proved to be one of two players who weathered Mauricio Pochettino’s exodus of that spree. Through tactical analysis Christian Eriksen has proven to have been one of Tottenham’s best players since his arrival.
Fast forward to today and he’s one of Tottenham’s standout players, responsible for many winning goals and trademark freekicks.
But how would Spurs, backed by a frugal Daniel Levy, seek to replace such a gem in their side?
Realistically, Spurs are unlikely to sell Eriksen for anything below £35 million in this window and will seek to re-invest that money in a few positions, as opposed to the Dane’s alone. With Eriksen appearing to stall on signing a new deal and with his current one expiring in 2020, the likes of Real Madrid will not be looking to pay over the odds.
However, the purpose of this piece is to assess how each reported replacement could reinvigorate Spurs’ midfield in the coming seasons.
Tactical Analysis – Giovani Lo Celso
Giovani Lo Celso is one name more frequently brought up surrounding Tottenham’s replacement for Eriksen. The Argentine midfielder has enjoyed an impressive loan spell at Real Betis from Paris Saint-Germain getting 16 goals and six assists in the process. This was enough for the Spanish team to make the move permanent with a £19.8 million seal and a reported £88 million release clause.
While this may be an unrealistic turn of events, Lo Celso would be a good tactical replacement and Pochettino is likely to be given a workable budget by Levy ahead of the summer transfer window.
Lo Celso is a commodity in midfield in that he finds ease in playing across the middle of the park. Whether as an attacking midfielder (centrally or in the half spaces), a box-to-box midfielder in a double-pivot, or a more disciplined defensive midfielder. Much like Eriksen, Lo Celso also found himself in wide midfield positions last season.
The 23-year-old possesses sharpness of mind and feet in abundance, qualities which will most definitely aid his transition to the hustle and bustle of the Premier League.
Former Real Betis manager, Quique Setien was known for his tactical flexibility and unwavering discipline in his pressing strategies, with Lo Celso acting as a key cog in the Betis machine. The Argentine would undoubtedly replicate such deep knowledge of the game under the tutelage of his compatriot, Pochettino.
For instance, Pochettino himself has outed such formations as 4-2-3-1, 3-4-2-1 and 3-1-4-2. All formations which Lo Celso occupied a myriad of positions in comfortably, sometimes alternating mid-game.
In his more advanced roles last season, Lo Celso averaged a goal or an assist every 123 minutes in all competitions, a rate that is half an hour better than Eriksen’s most recent average. While Eriksen has played approximately 700 minutes (nine games) more, Lo Celso’s goal contributions are still impressive and a much-needed asset for the Lilywhites.
Meanwhile, Lo Celso’s defensive numbers are equally as impressive, making him more of a prospect for Eriksen’s replacement. The Argentine midfielder was attempting and winning his defensive duels at a significantly higher rate than the Dane last season. Lo Celso averaged 7.61 defensive duels with a success rate of 26.1%, whereas Eriksen was attempting 4.24 succeeding in 15.4%.
Moreover, Lo Celso averaged a greater number of recoveries than Eriksen, with the former averaging 5.31 and the latter 4.98. This, combined with their respective 2.56 and 2.95 interceptions per game, paints a picture of two exceptional midfielders thriving in astute pressing-style teams.
With Lo Celso arguably being more of a full midfield package than Eriksen, the Argentine could do a lot more than just replace the Danish international. The cracks in the Tottenham midfield have been glossed over following the loss of Moussa Dembele in January and Lo Celso will go a long way to remedying those frailties.
Having reportedly made a £53 million move for Lo Celso already, Pochettino believes this move can happen and that the Betis midfielder is worth breaking Spurs’ transfer fee to acquire. Lo Celso could very well be the perfect answer to Tottenham’s lack of midfield depth.
While his time in England was short-lived, Youri Tielemans certainly converted some of his critics during his loan spell at Leicester City. In his three months with the Foxes, Tielemans chalked up an impressive three goals and five assists, averaging a goal contribution once every 136 minutes, marginally better than Eriksen’s.
In comparison, his time in Monaco was rather tumultuous. In 52 fewer games for Leicester, Tielemans almost matched his Monaco goal contribution tally for two seasons in all competitions.
As Tielemans has expressed his disinterest in returning to Monaco, he will be highly touted for a number of top sides around Europe. Valued at around £20m, Tielemans would be Tottenham’s most economic replacement for Christian Eriksen but that is by no means a detriment to the Belgian’s contribution.
There is an Eriksen-esque way about Tieleman’s game. From the way he picks up wide positions on both flanks to deliver pinpoint crosses that shuttle through the corridor of uncertainty. To the measured and composed nature of his passing, working in tandem with his effortless ambidexterity. Tielemans could very well be one of the most like-for-like replacements for Eriksen on the market.
The similarities with Eriksen do not end there. The Belgian international has also developed a reputation as a long-range specialist. With a player like Tielemans who can use both feet with equally devastating effect, this means double the trouble for opposition markers.
Tielemans also appears to trump Eriksen on passing stats, as the Belgian midfielder completes nearly 30% more of his long passes than the Danish international. Additionally, while not attempting forward passes at the same rate, Tielemans has a higher percentage of accurate forward passes than Eriksen – with the former completing 76.7% and the latter 64.9%.
This highlights an efficiency in a high-tempo league that should not be ignored. Moreover, Tottenham saw the advantages of playing the long ball game in the latter stages of the Champions League and would not scoff at the opportunity at signing a player who is equally as comfortable with plan A as he is with plan B.
Tielemans’ ability to play well against sides with different defensive set-ups is something which Pochettino would find value in. Whether he is providing inch-perfect crosses against a team in a low block, or providing that killer penetrative pass for Jamie Vardy to run onto against a team with a high-line, Tielemans’ vision and technical ability is clear.
This seems the most obvious move for Spurs as it ticks most of their boxes. Financially, this move makes sense as Tottenham are already on a tight budget. Tactically, Tielemans can play as a #10, #8 and a #6 whilst still picking up wide positions in Eriksen fashion. The Belgian midfielder also has good Premier League experience which means he is less likely to have issues acclimatising to the physical rigours of the league and can be integrated from the outset.
Finally, and perhaps most important in the modern game, Spurs will not have as much competition in signing the Monaco man.
Donny van de Beek
Following their remarkable progression in last season’s Champions League, a number of Ajax’s players have worked their way onto the shop window for Europe’s elite. One such player is Donny van de Beek, the central midfielder whose praises are relatively unsung in comparison to the De Jongs and Ziyechs of the side.
Currently, van de Beek is valued around £22.5 million but a move to Tottenham would see that fee rise to at least north of £40 million.
While, on paper, van de Beek plays either as a #10, #8 or #6, those who have watched the Dutch international can attest to his energetic playing style, picking up useful positions across the middle and final third of the pitch. However, when deployed in a deeper role, van de Beek also combines a defensive grit past his years with supreme passing abilities, acting as a key component of his side’s build-up from the back.
Standing at six feet tall with a slightly stocky build, his vision and close control often leave surprised defenders in his wake. Van de Beek possesses the technical prowess to either receive the ball on the half turn under pressure or take his man on 1 v 1. With his cumbersome frame, defenders underestimate van de Beek’s ability to glide past markers with ease both on and off the ball.
A player in the Frank Lampard mould, van de Beek has shown his quality in the final third, making intelligent runs into the box or providing a killer pass to his teammates. This is evidenced in his 17 goals and 13 assists last season.
Using tactical analysis the Dutchman has completed a higher proportion of his progressive passes than Eriksen, with the Ajax midfielder on 74% and the Dane amassing 64%. While Eriksen attempts twice as many forward passes as van de Beek, the latter’s higher percentage is indicative of his impressive cocktail of spatial awareness, technical ability and decision-making – all at the tender age of 22. Such efficiency on the ball is a pre-requisite for the English game, as time and space on the ball is very limited.
In terms of goal involvement, the Dutchman edges past the Dane again with the Ajax man averaging a goal or assist every 137 minutes and Eriksen every 152 minutes. While not a marked difference, van de Beek’s quality in front of goal could be very beneficial to Spurs as much of their goals are tied up between Kane, Son and Alli. An increase in midfield productivity would go a long way to ease the pressure on Tottenham’s forwards should they experience an injury in the season.
A player in an elite pressing system, as van de Beek was, would come to White Hart Lane with a wealth of defensive expertise and the numbers to back it up. In the season just gone, the Dutch international was also involved in and won more defensive duels than Eriksen, demonstrating van de Beek’s tenacity which would translate very well in Pochettino’s pressing system.
The Ajax man also loses the ball less and recovers the ball more than the Spurs midfielder, with the Dutchman averaging 8.24 losses and 5.24 recoveries and the Dane with 11.14 losses and 4.98 recoveries. While this probably says more about Ajax as a team than any individual, van de Beek outstripping Eriksen’s defensive contributions only makes him more of the desired replacement for Spurs fans due to the Ajax youngster’s all-encompassing midfield game.
With Tottenham looking to Ajax in reinvesting after selling one of their most prized assets, the acquisition of van de Beek has an air of history repeating itself. Spurs will be hoping that these parallels continue past the transfer window and that the Dutchman becomes as valuable a player as Eriksen was during his six years in North London.
However, with reported interest from Europe’s big hitters, it will be interesting to see where van de Beek ends up come next season.
Using tactical analysis, Eriksen’s move from Spurs could draw parallels to Bale’s departure, which freed up the cash for the Dane’s move to North London six years ago. While Tottenham find themselves in another rebuilding job, it is imperative that Levy backs Pochettino in the market so Spurs can finally clear the final hurdle that they stumble over each season.
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