Christian Eriksen’s departure from Inter in January looks increasingly likely | DeFodi Images/Getty Images
Internazionale were absolutely desperate to sign Christian Eriksen in January. There’s no two ways about it.
A cool £17m for a player who was set to become a free agent in six months?! They were desperate.
When the Dane arrived in Milan following 18 months of alienation and the odd moment of brilliance at Tottenham, he was seen as the magic potion for a stagnating Inter outfit.
Antonio Conte’s Inter were in need of a spark in the new year | Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images
Eriksen’s arrival at the end of January rounded off a month in which Antonio Conte’s side had fallen three points behind Juventus in the race for the Scudetto following three consecutive 1-1 draws against Atalanta, Lecce and Cagliari.
Conte’s pre-determined patterns had become easier to mitigate, a crucial creative outlet in Stefano Sensi was sidelined and their intensity had started to wane off the ball. In short, Inter looked a mere shadow of their scintillating best displayed throughout much of the first half of 2019/20.
But with Eriksen providing a threat from distance against the deep blocks the Nerazzurri were so often thwarted by and serving as a legitimate creator-in-chief, the Nerazzurri were set for a resurgence spearheaded by the Dane, right?
Well, not quite.
Conte and Eriksen are yet to see eye-to-eye | MIGUEL MEDINA/Getty Images
Despite Conte attempting to facilitate a bona fide playmaker in his 3-5-2 by re-altering his side’s configuration to a 3-4-1-2, Eriksen underwhelmed on debut against Udinese in his tailor-made role before cameo appearances against Milan, Lazio and Juventus.
Sure, it wasn’t the brightest of starts but that’s all it was: a start. This was a player who hadn’t been playing a whole lot of football – for someone who he actually wanted to play for, at least – in the months that’d preceded. It was bound to take a while for Eriksen to settle down in a niche system and rediscover the sort of form which saw him emerge as one of the continent’s finest creators during his pomp at Spurs.
Then, with Inter ten minutes into their maiden Serie A encounter following Calcio’s resumption in June against Sampdoria, Milan Skriniar picked out Lautaro Martinez with a well-directed lofted pass in behind.
After holding off Sampdoria defender Bartosz Bereszyński, El Toro then set free a surging Romelu Lukaku with a perfectly timed backheel before the Belgian played a give-and-go with the onrushing Eriksen.
The Dane’s first-time return pass was nothing short of sublime, leaving Lukaku with no option but to score his 24th goal of an imperious campaign.
The sequence was not only a celebration of Conte’s scintillating automatisms, but it also served as the catalyst for Eriksen’s finest performance in Nerazzurri colours. It was a display that even Spurs fans had forgotten he was capable of producing, and one we hadn’t seen since his 2017 swan song; it included five shots, four chances created and the aforementioned assist – which really should’ve been three by the end of the night.
That Sampdoria show arrived just days after Eriksen had scored in Inter’s aggregate defeat to Napoli in the Coppa Italia semi-final and had finally started to show signs of life in Nerazzurri colours. Now it was time for the Dane to spearhead a late Scudetto surge…
“Oh what do you mean ‘Well, not quite…’ Seriously!?”
The Dane has seen plenty of the bib since his Inter switch | Soccrates Images/Getty Images
Well, unfortunately, a mere two goal contributions – both coming in a 6-0 rout of lowly Brescia – following the Samp triumph doesn’t exactly scream ‘renaissance’. Does it?
By the time the 2019/20 domestic season drew to a close, it was clear that Eriksen, ironically, wasn’t even Conte’s preferred option for the role specifically designed for him. That honour fell to Nicolo Barella, who’d previously impressed as a box-to-box option, and it was the frenetic Italian who started throughout August’s Europa League epilogue in Germany.
And now, as we approach mid-November, it’s fair to say that little has changed for the Dane at Inter. In fact, the situation’s probably worsened.
In his four starts this term, the 28-year-old has barely offered spurts of magic and is yet to complete a single 90 minutes. Sure, there might be occasions where Conte is perhaps a bit eager to haul him off and overly hesitant to utilise him off the bench, but there’s no denying that Eriksen has done little to garner the trust of his demanding boss.
The Dane was hauled off before the hour mark in his side’s 2-0 triumph over Genoa last month | Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images
While the underlying stats from FbRef suggest there’s been no sharp decline from a creative perspective; his shot-creating actions (3.86), progressive passing distance (262.2), number of touches (85.2) and successful dribbles (1.3) per 90 minutes aren’t too dissimilar – superior in some metrics – compared to his last ‘great’ season at Spurs (2017/18), the fact that he’s yet to notch a single shot on target or register a goal contribution in five Serie A games this term epitomises the Dane’s woes.
So often are Inter tepid and one-paced in the final third with Eriksen serving as the creative metronome, but fiery, energetic and fluid with Barella wreaking havoc. This is to little fault of Eriksen’s, mind, that’s just who he is. That’s his profile, his skillset, how he manoeuvres. It’s just not a harmonious systematic fit. Does he truly understand what Conte wants from him?
Nevertheless, for now, Barella is performing at a level which the Dane hasn’t been at for years. He’s firmly behind the Italian in Conte’s pecking order and there’s little to suggest anything will change before January – when talk of a swift getaway from the San Siro will be rife.
? Great back-heel assists in Champions League history: New entry!
⚫️? Stunning Nicolò Barella pass on matchday 3 ⚽️#UCL | #TBT | @Inter_en https://t.co/XI65XKtewW pic.twitter.com/qPG5Dp3922
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) November 12, 2020
His performances for the national team, where he has three goals in his last four appearances, highlight that Eriksen’s talent hasn’t totally escaped him, and there’s no questioning that one or two members of Europe’s elite will be having a peek should the 28-year-old emerge on the transfer block in the winter.
The Dane remains a fine playmaker and an innovative mind, but with Barella shining in the ‘Eriksen role’, it would now be a Christmas miracle for the 28-year-old to win over Conte before the new year.
Eriksen has to forget about pride for a moment and accept his Milan venture was a failed experiment, characterised by false dawns, and as Arsenal Fan TV’s Claude once notoriously proclaimed: “It’s time to go!”