Christian Eriksen is the reliable No. 10 that Tottenham have lacked
You can never entirely judge a player upon highlights alone, but a showreel of that individual's goals often summarises their footballing personality.
Watch Thierry Henry's 228 Arsenal goals and you'll find his cool, composed finishes epitomise his grace and nonchalance. View Cristiano Ronaldo's and you'll witness his sheer power. Observe Lionel Messi's collection and you'll marvel at his immaculate precision.
Tottenham's Christian Eriksen is a fine example, because the Danish playmaker scores an amazing number of extremely similar goals. He has netted eight this Premier League season, half of which have been identical. Against Southampton, Hull, Swansea and Sunderland, he has fired in from just outside the box -- 20 yards every time -- and drilled the ball low to the goalkeeper's right-hand side. Both the position the ball is struck from and where it ends up have become extremely familiar.
There's also a strange likeness about the context of those four goals. They have all been winners, struck later than the 89th minute -- one 1-0 and three 2-1s. Another goal, away at Leicester, was also a winner in a 2-1 match (and that was struck low to the goalkeeper's right, in off the post, from a wide free kick). Eriksen scores only important goals: The other three, against Sunderland, Everton and Manchester City, have either drawn Spurs level or put them ahead.
Despite being hit from outside the box, however, none of Eriksen's goals have been magnificent aesthetically; these aren't screamers, jaw-dropping moments of artistic genius or impudence. The clips won't be vital, and they won't be featured on end-of-season montages. Eriksen isn't a Tony Yeboah or a Laurent Robert.
From a description of Eriksen's strike against Sunderland on Saturday, a last-minute winner hit from 20 yards and going in off the post, you would expect a thunderbolt. Yet Eriksen's strikes are calmer, more measured. They are well placed rather than well struck. They're "clinical" or "clever" rather than "stunning" or "spectacular." Eriksen dispatches the ball neatly into the net with a minimum of fuss, which is a fine summary of his entire skill set.
Eriksen's talent has never been in question. Hyped from an early age as another gifted playmaker from the Ajax academy, he was compared by then-coach Martin Jol to both Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart.
Eriksen is a different type of player, however, and while Sneijder always tries the spectacular and Van der Vaart's positional indiscipline makes him something of a luxury player, there's an efficiency about everything Eriksen does. He's simultaneously intelligent and busy, a No. 10 in the same mould as Chelsea's Oscar, a modern interpretation of the playmaker.
In this age of technical-based possession football, with so many deep-lying midfielders capable of starting passing moves, No. 10s must now be defensively aware. Just as Oscar announced himself to Chelsea fans by scoring two great goals against Juventus while nullifying Andrea Pirlo too, Eriksen has impressed this season because of his goal-scoring contribution, but also his ability to press.
Tottenham's opener against Arsenal in September, in a match that eventually ended in a 1-1 draw, was a good example. Eriksen made a crunching tackle on Mathieu Flamini high up the pitch, winning possession and beginning the move that would lead to Nacer Chadli's fine finish. Flamini seemed surprised by the sudden pressure from Eriksen; usually you'd expect Flamini to be tackling the Dane. It's this role reversal makes Eriksen such a valuable player, with and without possession.
Admittedly, this hasn't always been obvious. "I'm not a player to defend or run around," he admitted in a Guardian interview last season. "I want the ball."
That was fine under former boss Tim Sherwood, a manager who, in his own words, likes "attacking players to attack, defenders to defend and midfielders to do a bit of both." But new manager Mauricio Pochettino wants heavy pressure high up the pitch, and therefore Eriksen has been forced to work harder. At the midway point of the Premier League, only Stoke's Steven N'Zonzi and Chelsea duo Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic had run further. From a player who didn't consider himself "one to run around," it's quite a difference in a short period of time.
On his arrival, Eriksen was a victim of a much-changed Tottenham squad in the wake of Gareth Bale's departure -- he might have planned to ease his way into the side, whereas Tottenham required him to become a leader immediately. It took him half a season to settle, but he's now been performing well for a year and has improved since Pochettino took charge.
Statistics demonstrate Eriksen's improvement in a technical respect, too. In the Premier League, compared to last season he's shooting more, making 50 percent more tackles, his pass completion rate is up (from 81.9 percent to 83.8) and he's already beaten last season's goal tally of seven. The only surprise is that he's managed just one assist compared to eight last year, although his chance-creation figures are extremely similar. Considering he managed a hat trick of assists against Newcastle in a Capital One Cup tie last month, there's no reason to be concerned.
Eriksen isn't a typical Tottenham player. The club has come to be associated with flair players, talented but wayward footballers who somehow you never entirely trust. Van der Vaart, with his spectacular goals but frustrating inconsistency, somehow epitomised the club. You'd back him to win a Goal of the Month award, but not a league title. His departure was mourned by the majority of Tottenham fans, and understandably so, but he's the type of player they can do without.
In stark contrast, there's something refreshing about Eriksen's clinical, understated, efficient, no-frills approach, and it's symbolic that his goals have earned Tottenham so many points. Pochettino wants Spurs to play on the front foot, but they're about organisation, cohesion and getting the job done calmly. Eriksen, along with Harry Kane -- another unfussy, ruthless finisher -- are the new poster boys for that approach.
After a false start under Andre Villas-Boas and a brief interruption under Sherwood, Tottenham have finally established themselves as a technical, cohesive, proactive side. In Eriksen, they have the perfect No. 10.