Forget Coutinho, Barcelona should replace Neymar with Christian Eriksen
Why the Tottenham maestro is a better fit for Barcelona than Coutinho.
Whenever a flashy or flamboyant player leaves his club, people always expect the club to replace him with another player in the same mould. With Neymar's move to PSG now just a step away, Barcelona are lining up potential replacements and the first name on their list seems to be Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho.
Coutinho, like his compatriot, is a wonderful footballer and has flair akin to Neymar. At his best, he moves around the pitch while crafting plays in a mazy sort of way; like a tarantula webbing its nets all over for the insects to get stuck and fall prey to its menacing tentacles.
That’s what Coutinho does – he weaves a web from which there is no escape.
It is this ability of the Brazilian that has attracted Barcelona, but the Camp Nou outfit should resist their urge and go for someone who offers something different, subtlety…something Christian Eriksen provides to Spurs.
King of subtlety
The Dane is not your average glitzy player who leaves a rainbow trail behind him when he runs. Instead, the former Ajax starlet is someone you hardly notice on the pitch as he goes about doing his work without much fuss.
If you watch him play, you begin to notice his subtlety. He is everywhere and yet he is nowhere; he is like the air that provides us with the oxygen essential for living – something we can never see, but only feel.
Eriksen leaves a lasting presence on the pitch. When he is there, the fans seemingly fail to notice him as most of them are blinded by the radiance of Dele Alli and Harry Kane. However, when he leaves the field, you suddenly begin to feel that something is not right – that Spurs are now incomplete, that the dots aren’t connecting anymore.
He is the one that connects the dots for Tottenham. Despite playing out of position on the wings to accommodate Alli in the centre, he has done an exceedingly good job of keeping the system ticking. He hovers around the pitch ever so gently, nonchalantly picking the ball up and moving it around with one-two touches.
He does it so mysteriously that even the opposition players have a tough time noticing him. And it is this very quality that Barcelona need right now – not goal scoring.
Eriksen and Barca - a match-made in heaven
Barcelona already have Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez for all the flashy play and goalscoring. While Neymar complemented them very well, Eriksen will provide the side with something much more different that will further unleash their scoring prowess: withdrawn support.
The Dane hardly attacks the box and likes to play around it instead, letting his more attacking team-mates take the forefront with attacking runs. He won’t score too many goals, but he will pretty damn well ensure that the others do.
Last season, no player created more scoring chances in the Premier League than Eriksen. Indeed, his 112 chances created was more than even Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.
Hence, it is safe to claim that Messi and Suarez will be presented with a lot more chances with the Tottenham man behind them.
With 15 assists in the Premier League last season, Eriksen was only behind Kevin de Bruyne in the league and was the third best among the players in the top 4 European leagues. He might not have the silky dribbling skills of Neymar – something he doesn’t even need – but he can move the ball forward inside two touches, something that Barca always like in their players.
Given that his upbringing was at the Johan Cruyff-inspired surroundings of Ajax that echo the ethos of tiki-taka, he would be a perfect fit for the Catalans. Eriksen might not have the brand value of Neymar – heck, he isn’t even rated very highly – but he is certainly the kind of player Barca need in order to move forward after the quagmire this transfer window has left them in.
The Underrated one
When the debate about the best midfielders in Europe arises, the names that are commonly heard are Isco, Mesut Ozil, Thiago Alcantara, Kevin de Bruyne and the like, but one hardly hears the name Eriksen popping up, unless it is from a Spurs fan, indicating how criminally underrated he is.
This is a guy that can play in multiple positions and still function at his best. This season, in order to accommodate Dele Alli behind Kane, and Heung-Min Son on the left, he occupied the right-wing and made it his own.
Son’s goalscoring abilities are best utilised when he cuts inside from the left and Alli is a beast in the hole, but neither of them are the same when playing in another position – which left Eriksen as the only player that could change positions.
And he does. More often than not, he plays on the wings and drifts inwards to create passing lanes for his team. When, however, Spurs don’t have the ball, Eriksen reverts to the wings and guards his full-back. This is another task that he could do better than both Neymar and Coutinho – the dirty work.
The full-back feels far more secure when the Dane plays ahead of him – just ask Kyle Walker. His presence played a huge role in Walker having the freedom to unleash his attacking capabilities, which earned him a big-money move to Pep Guardiola’s revolution at Manchester City.
If Barcelona sign Eriksen, they will be buying someone who can play anywhere behind the striker. The former Ajax starlet’s immaculate vision and tenacity will be helpful to Barca’s system and completely bring out the scoring potential of Messi and Suarez.
He might not be able to make the Camp Nou dance like Neymar did with his feet, but they will surely stand up for him and applaud his divinity. His work ethic is matched by only a select few and he likes to keep his head down and work with diligence.
Christian Eriksen – not Neymar, not Coutinho – is the true epitome of the morals Barca think they preach. And it is about time they practice what they preach.