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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 8 March 2021

Christian Eriksen has a point to prove after sketchy start at Inter Milan

Move from Tottenham hasn't turned out as hoped, with Ludogorets in Europa League next

Inter Milan's Christian Eriksen during the Europa League round of 32 first leg against Ludogorets. AFP
Inter Milan's Christian Eriksen during the Europa League round of 32 first leg against Ludogorets. AFP

Northern Italy is in a state of alarm. Precautions against the spread of coronavirus, with more cases confirmed in the region than anywhere else in Europe, have altered the routines of public life. On Thursday, at San Siro, where Internazionale take on Ludogorets in the second leg of their Europa League last 16 tie, there will be no paying spectators. Inter’s eagerly-awaited collision with Juventus in Turin on Sunday may also be played behind closed doors.

For one new resident in Milan, it must seem a bewildering time. Christian Eriksen moved to the city at the end of January, his decision to join Inter made after much agonising over his choices. He left Tottenham Hotspur, where his contract was due to expire in June, six months after claiming a silver medal in the Champions League; he has joined an Inter who in December were demoted to the Europa League after finishing third in their Champions League group.

He left Spurs just as they came into urgent need of high-class, experienced attacking players; a month after his €20m (Dh80m) move he recognises that Inter are still working out how best to use his gifts and experience.

Eriksen has so far started just two of Inter’s six games since he joined, and if he is in the XI against Ludogorets this evening it will not necessarily be a signal that head coach Antonio Conte is fully convinced of Eriksen’s immediate importance to Inter’s plans. Conte will rotate heavily – Inter have a 2-0 advantage over Ludogorets from the first leg in Bulgaria – with the fitness of key men for the Juventus fixture his priority.

The Derby D’Italia has much hanging on it. If it is to be played in eerie silence, with no crowd because of the public health emergency, it may even be broadcast, as a one-off, on free to air television because of the huge interest in the outcome.

Inter, third in the Serie A table, trail Juve, champions the last eight seasons, by six points, although following the postponement of last weekend’s fixture against Sampdoria – another coronavirus precaution – Inter have a match in hand.

Eriksen has already had a crash-course in the emotional rollercoaster that life at Inter tends to be. After a rather ostentatious unveiling at La Scala, the Milan opera house, he made his home league debut in an extraordinary Milan derby, and would have been forgiven for thinking he was fortunate to have sat on the bench throughout its first half. Conte went into the dressing-room at half-time livid, with Inter 2-0 behind; mid-table AC Milan had scored their second goal just before the break.

From the bench, Eriksen then watched a thrilling comeback. He joined it, as a substitute, with Inter 3-2 ahead, promptly rapped a free-kick from 30 yards against the underside of the Milan crossbar and was among the first to throng around Romelu Lukaku when Inter’s fourth goal made a remarkable turnaround safe. At that point, Eriksen felt his move from Spurs to Italy an excellent, exhilarating decision. His new club went to the top of the table that night.

A week later, they had slid to third, after being on the wrong end of a comeback, by second-placed Lazio, who were 1-0 down to Inter at half-time. Eriksen came off the bench for the last 13 minutes, with Inter 2-1 behind, and was unable to make a difference. Speaking to reporters afterwards, Conte argued that it was too much to expect him to, either, so soon after his arrival in a new country, a new league.

“We shouldn’t think one player is going to change the destiny of the team,” Conte said, and added, in what was interpreted as a criticism of the 28-year-old Dane. “We have got to where we are without Eriksen.”

Four nights later, in Razgrad, Eriksen completed his first 90 minutes under Conte. He scored his first Inter goal, picking out the bottom corner with characteristic precision to open the scoring against Ludogorets. “That will give him confidence. He is a player who can lift the quality of our team” said Conte, leavening the praise with a challenge.

“He still needs to get to the form he had at Tottenham, and to improve his physical condition.” The instruction is clear: the Dane will have to sweat for his chance to line up from the start at Juventus.

Published: February 27, 2020 08:21 AM

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