Back in January, Inter surprised the world of football by signing one of the most wanted players.
Christian Eriksen joined Inter coming from Spurs for a total of €20M including bonuses. Fair to say the deal is plain day robbery considering the player’s value on the market (€90M).
Everything sounds perfect until you remember who’s coaching Inter; the 3-5-2 master, Antonio Conte. Still can’t see what’s wrong?
Antonio Conte’s tactics do not use an attacking midfielder, which Eriksen is. A pure playmaker like the 28 year old Danish has theoretically no place in Conte’s game plans.
In order to play under Antonio Conte, a player needs to have higher levels of endurance and commitment. As proves it one of Eden Hazard’s recent interviews where he described Conte’s trainings as “exhausting” and “focused on physicallity”.
This is why Eriksen does not fit into the player profile that Conte would go after. The Danish is the kind of player to walk on the pitch at times, does not dive into tackles and doesn’t run as much as would do a player like Brozovic or Candreva.
However, Christian Eriksen has plenty to offer to any side he would play for. A unique skillset based on vision, accuracy and long shot along with a special ability to take set pieces. Eriksen might not be as aggressive as Vidal or Nainggolan but you can expect him to do the unexpected (Example: the post he hit from a freekick from 40 meters against Milan).
It is for the abilities mentioned above that a solution to play Eriksen is of paramount importance. As of now, I see two possible scenarios concerning how Conte will use his freshly signed attacking midfielder.
Scenario 1: Eriksen adapts to Conte’s tactics
The most probable scenario would be that Antonio Conte will work with Eriksen in order to use him the same way he used Sensi at the start on the season.
A partnership with Barella, just a little higher up the pitch from Brozovic. Using his creativity to bring the ball out of the defence, drop in between the opposition defensive line to outnumber and try to shoot from distance.
This role would require much more physical commitment from Eriksen as it requires the player to contribute both in offensively and defensively. It also requires the player to cover a lot of ground to protect the defense when defending and underlap in central areas during attacking situations.
At age 28, it is maybe too late for Eriksen to adapt and develop his defensive contribution. This scenario might end up in costing Eriksen playing time until he adapts to his new position.
However, this scenario does not require any change of tactics and would not affect the team tactics or the individual instructions assigned to other players.
Scenario 2: Conte adapts his tactics to Eriksen
In order to play Eriksen in his natural position and make the most of his abilities, Conte would have to bring Barella and Brozovic behind him; using both in a more defensively focused roles. Thus allowing Eriksen to take care of the offensive entertainment.
By doing so, Conte would also have to play Lautaro and Lukaku wider, in order to let Eriksen drop between the strikers and use his shooting ability to try to score from central areas at the edge of the box. This would also allow Inter to stretch defenses and force them to open spaces when they try to mark our strikers who are drifting wide. Consequently, it would allow more creative freedom to Eriksen.
However, this change would imply many changes to Inter focus of attacks. First, it would decrease both of Brozovic and Barella’s attacking contribution as they would cover for Eriksen. Second, by having strikers drifting wide, there is a risk of overcrowing wide areas as Conte uses his wingbacks to cover them. As a result, the wingbacks would also need to press less high. Consequently, Inter would hold less of the ball on the wings and focus more on central areas, making Eriksen the key link of their attacks.
This scenario would imply a radical change to Conte’s tactics but would ensure to exploit Eriksen to his maximum ability.