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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - A pair of playmakers provided polar performances.
Philippe Coutinho was excellent. He drove Bayern Munich forward, orchestrated with intent. Late in the first half, he struck the crossbar with a thunderous effort, on the night repeatedly forcing Paulo Gazzaniga into action.
In the end, Coutinho got his just rewards: a goal to go with the guile. He banked Bayern’s third in a 3-1 win, a wonderful curling effort that left Gazzaniga no chance. It confirmed a 100 per cent record for Bayern in this season’s Uefa Champions League, and defeat for an albeit makeshift Tottenham Hotspur.
Much like his display, it harked back to Coutinho’s Liverpool days, before the botched spell at Barcelona, when a reported £146 million (Dh708m) investment didn't pay off.
If Coutinho was on Wednesday night reliving past glories, a creative counterpart moved in a different direction. Where Coutinho coaxed the best from Bayern, Christian Eriksen proved a significant part of the problem for Spurs.
It's been the story of his season. Informed in the summer that he could leave the club – he had a year remaining on his contract – no suitors proposed a suitably seductive offer. So Eriksen stayed, predominantly on the periphery, one of the key components of this recently polished Spurs fast losing his sheen.
On Wednesday in Munich, and for the first time since Jose Mourinho took charge, Eriksen played 90 minutes. His three previous appearances for the Portuguese had come from the bench: 11 minutes against West Ham United, 26 at Manchester United, 61 minutes as Spurs toiled early at home to Olympiakos.
If Eriksen helped change the complexion then, Wednesday did little to alter the sense that his time at Tottenham is up. For the majority at the Allianz Arena, the Dane was wayward with his passing and wasteful in possession. He sparked briefly late on, conjuring two opportunities for substitute Son Heung-min, but by then it was too late. The game had gone. Some suggest his head has, too.
"Christian Eriksen has fallen out of love with the club," claimed Darren Fletcher, the former Manchester United midfielder, on British radio. "He obviously doesn't want to be there."
"Eriksen was a disappointment today,” parroted Peter Crouch, a one-time Spurs striker, in his fresh role as television pundit. “He needs to get his head down or not play.”
For that is what it has come to. One of the finest midfielders of the Premier League reduced to a bit-part role, if at all. As Fletcher and Crouch suggest, Eriksen appears affected by his determination to depart, to discover another destination to display his undeniable talent. Uncertainty has led to uncharacteristic and undistinguished displays.
“I need to understand what is in Christian's mind or heart,” Mourinho confirmed not long after his arrival three weeks ago. “We have to make the right decision for the club.”
Next month could expedite the process. Eriksen, 27, is rumoured to once more interest Manchester United, as Spurs seek to salvage some recompense for a player who two summers ago was valued north of £100m.
Apparently, the stumbling block is Eriksen’s desire to leave England, to test his traits in Spain, maybe Italy. Real Madrid and Barcelona have always been viewed as his preferred choices.
Yet a punctuated campaign could impact his appeal. Admittedly, his contract situation – he becomes a free agent in six months – makes Eriksen a risk worth taking, for a selection of Europe’s premier clubs. However, he will not want to surrender the season, especially with the 2020 Euros upcoming.
Neither will Spurs. Chasing top four and with considerable ground to recover - Chelsea sit six points ahead - the 2018/19 Champions League finalists could do with an energised and effective Eriksen. Last season, he registered 12 assists in 35 league matches; 15 two seasons before that; 13 the season before. This year, he has one in 12.
The stats are telling. For some time Spurs’ chief conductor, Eriksen has regressed to one of their principal problems. It may seem counterintuitive given his ability, but the winter window might present a timely parting of the ways.
Updated: December 12, 2019 02:02 PM
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