In the new man wearing shirt number 23, Tottenham Hotspur appears to have found its new number 10.
In a dominant 2-0 win over Norwich City at White Hart Lane on Saturday, Spurs supporters witnessed the debut of perhaps the club's most important acquisition of the summer. Christian Eriksen, the 21-year old Danish international and former centerpiece of three consecutive Dutch league championships for Ajax, made his debut as a starter today and quickly showed the creativeness the Spurs attack had been famously missing for well over a year.
In the 11th minute, Eriksen displayed some nice footwork in clearing himself for a shot on goal. When keeper John Ruddy failed to swallow up the attempt, Roberto Soldado nearly scored on a sly back-heeled shot that hit the post. Although the match remained scoreless for the moment, Eriksen had shown a sign of things to come.
The attacking midfielder's presence seemed to bring out the best in Soldado, who'd lacked sufficient service in the club's first three league matches, and the two linked up a number of times in building the Spurs attack. In the 28th minute, Eriksen quickly took a pass from the Spaniard and sent Gyfil Sigurdsson free on goal. The Icelandic marksman had yet to find his stride this season, leading to speculation that he was destined to lose his place in the squad altogether. But today he transformed into Tottenham's version of Arnaldur Indridason, authoring a thriller of a goal on a low shot that curled inside the right post. It was Tottenham's first open-play goal of the season and gave Spurs a 1-0 lead.
Sigurdsson followed up his debut goal with a second-half strike, and again, Eriksen played a key part. The Dane found Paulinho alone on the right, and the talented box-to-box midfielder sent a perfect pass across the goal to Sig on the left for a tap-in. After this second bit of 1-2-3 from Tottenham, the game was out of reach for the Canaries, who managed just one shot on goal and were fortunate to grab a scant 31% of the possession.
To be sure, this is a match Spurs should win. But the same was said the last four times they two clubs have met, including in the League Cup last season, yet Tottenham had come out with two disappointing draws and two shocking losses in those contests. In many a match against lesser opponents of late, Spurs have looked the stronger squad while not necessarily the more dangerous one, with many points dropped along the way. Today, however, Eriksen's presence made them look more dangerous from the onset, and goals suddenly seemed inevitable. It's hard to not pick a guy who bags a brace, but while Sig was the Spur of the Moment today (even if his second goal was a bit of a "Dempsey goal"), Eriksen was my Man of the Match.
It says much about Rafael van der Vaart's importance to his former club during his two recent seasons in Tottenham that the spot behind center forward, popularly known as the Number 10, is still referred to by some supporters as the "VDV role" over a year after his transfer to Hamburg. The loss of VDV, followed by the inability of Sigurdsson, Clint Dempsey, or Lewis Holtby to establish themselves in that position, robbed the squad of inventiveness--and against the Stokes of the league, it could be frustrating to watch Spurs search for the key to the bus that had been parked in front of goal.
Ironically, it might have done Tottenham a favor in the long run, though, as the glaring hole in the attack cried out for Gareth Bale's switch from left to center last season. Freed from double- and triple-teams along the sidelines, Bale grew from merely the best left winger in the league to a Top 3 player in Europe and 86 Million Pound Man. But even then he was more of a solo act, a long-distance assassin who led all of Europe with goals outside the 18-yard box. Eriksen, one of the players brought in with some of that Bale booty, looks to be a true creator in the no. 10 role. The position might well have a new name in Spurs folklore before too long.
And much like VDV, he came to Spurs for a comparative bargain, just 11 million pounds--or some 32 million less than the fee Arsenal paid for Mesut Ozil.