Reined-in Tottenham could be ready to break out in Premier League

Christian Eriksen may be player to take solid Premier League side and turn it into something spectacular.

Christian Eriksen, centre, is like the hook that pulls the different parts of the team together, according to our columnist. Jamie McDonald / Getty Images
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There was something strange, given all the signings they made, given all the changes and the optimism about the club, to reflect after three league games of the season that Tottenham Hotspur’s major tactical issue was precisely the same as it had been at the same stage of last season.

True, they had six points rather than two from those matches this season as opposed to last, but the same basic problem remained, which was a failure to convert domination of matches into goals.

They didn’t get men forward through the centre to support the striker, meaning that when he or one of the wingers received the ball, they tended to be isolated.

It’s true that the problem was less stark this season and that Paulinho, breaking forward from midfield, did manage seven shots in the 1-0 win over Swansea City in week two without scoring.

And it’s also true that Tottenham have looked extremely secure with their phalanx of three giants at the back of midfield. But there also seemed a conservatism about the approach, almost a self-consciousness about getting the foundations laid before attempting anything else.

Mousa Dembele, in particular, seemed to have reined in his forward surges.

And that’s where the addition of Christian Eriksen proved so vital against Norwich City on Saturday. Andre Villas-Boas had claimed the system this season would be a 4-3-3, but this seemed closer to a 4-2-3-1 (although the dividing lines between formations are never as rigid as some would make out).

Playing with Dembele and Paulinho, there was more adventure in the centre of Spurs’ midfield — and it’s entirely probable that Sandro or Etienne Capoue will return against tougher opponents — and Eriksen, signed from Ajax towards the end of the transfer window, had a fine debut.

The Dane’s quick feet almost created a goal early on as he ran onto Danny Rose’s slip inside, skipped by Robert Snodgrass and saw John Ruddy fumble his shot, only for Soldado to jab the rebound against the post.

He did, though, then get the assist for the first goal, taking Soldado’s chest-down and pausing just long enough before pushing the ball into the path of Gylfi Sigurdsson. The actual pass was simple enough, but what was impressive was his awareness not just of where Sigurdsson was, but of how quickly he was running.

Argentine football has fetishised “la pausa”, the moment of stillness before the killer pass. For them the best playmakers are the masters of la pausa; that passage of play suggested Eriksen shares similar qualities of control.

He demonstrated similar awareness for Tottenham’s second goal, playing in Paulinho round the side of Norwich’s defence so he could cross for Soldado.

He has close technical skill, of course, but far more important to Spurs on Saturday was his ability to act as a link, the hook that pulls other parts of the team together.

It’s still early, and other teams will pose a greater challenge than Norwich, but Eriksen, at just 21, has already showed signs that he could be the master-builder who could take Tottenham’s foundations and build on them a truly majestic edifice.