In Focus: United new-boy Eriksen hoping to sting Bees on Brentford return
After helping Brentford avoid relegation, Christian Eriksen is on another rescue mission — this time at Manchester United.
The Danish playmaker joined the Red Devils on a three-year contract after his short-term deal with the West Londoners expired.
Eriksen, 30, returns to the Gtech Community Stadium today as United look to kick-start the Erik ten Hag era with their first win of the Premier League season.
But where will he fit in at Old Trafford amid a plethora of attacking talent?
In a short time, Eriksen's impact on Brentford was huge.
Thomas Frank's men lost just three of the 11 Premier League fixtures Eriksen featured in following his debut on February 26.
In that time he created 30 chances — the most of any Brentford player — while only Kevin De Bruyne and Martin Odegaard recorded more after his arrival.
Understandably, Brentford manager Frank wanted to keep Eriksen.
He said: "I've said many times I would have loved him to stay. He obviously brought a lot of quality to us, we can't replace that, that's impossible.
"It's about how I can construct a team to get as close as possible to get the output the team got with Christian in it."
Handed his United debut in the 2-1 opening-weekend defeat to Brighton, Eriksen was surprisingly deployed at centre forward.
It was a choice made all the more puzzling by Marcus Rashford's inclusion on the left.
Eriksen took more shots (three) and hit the target more times (two) than any of his new team-mates as Brighton claimed their first ever win at Old Trafford at the 15th attempt.
Yet the former Tottenham star took only two touches inside the penalty area in 90 minutes and lasted less than an hour up top before dropping back into a more familiar midfield role.
Ten Hag is no stranger to using a false nine — it took his Ajax side to the Champions League semi-finals in 2019.
Eriksen, schooled in Ajax's academy, has the intelligence, spatial awareness and movement to thrive in a variety of roles.
Asked about the decision to use the former Inter man up front, Ten Hag defended the call.
He said: "Because we didn't have the typical No9, I knew [Eriksen] played a long time as a striker a long time ago in Ajax, dropping in.
"I wanted to keep Jadon [Sancho] and Marcus on the wings, coming inside they were really good in pre-season there.
"When I think, finally, Christian Eriksen is the best in the midfield and actually that was also the idea that he drops and gets in between the lines."
Former United midfielder Roy Keane was less than convinced however.
He said: "My biggest worry for players like Eriksen, the big problem for United over the last few years is when they're out of possession, especially against the better teams, they're not great at getting back.
"That's not one of his strengths. He's a talented player, but I'm not convinced he's the answer, but a very good player obviously."
Moving into No10
Regardless of the Ajax link and any experience leading the line, Eriksen's best position is behind the main forward.
He thrived as a No10 for Inter and spent a lot of his Spurs career there — or drifting in off the left-hand side.
Though the sample size is small, it is evident from Eriksen's touch map during his time at Brentford that he still does the majority of his work there.
With Bruno Fernandes well established as Manchester United's chief playmaker, something has to give.
Ten Hag is unlikely to deviate too far from the 4-2-3-1 shape he has used for much of his career.
Stationing Eriksen on the left puts the onus on Luke Shaw to get forward from full-back to provide width.
Compared to all other Premier League left-backs who completed at least 25% of minutes last term, Shaw ranked second for chances created (2.19 per 90 minutes) and third for big chances (0.28 per 90).
If the England international can continue to post those kinds of numbers, Ten Hag had need not worry about the lack of a natural left winger and Eriksen can create space for his left-back by driving inside.
United are a work in progress — and victory at Brentford with Eriksen redeployed would go a long way to legitimising Ten Hag's fledgling reign.