EPL

Eriksen's early Man Utd influence no shock to Carrick

By Sports Desk September 26, 2022

Christian Eriksen's quick emergence as a key player at Manchester United has not surprised former Red Devils midfielder Michael Carrick.

Denmark international Eriksen joined United on a free transfer in pre-season after playing the second half of the 2021-22 campaign with Brentford.

It was initially unclear how United would fit Eriksen into the team given the importance of Bruno Fernandes, but Erik ten Hag's inability to land key transfer target Frenkie de Jong seemingly made the decision for him.

Eriksen has generally featured slightly deeper than Fernandes and the pair's collective creativity has been a real asset for United in midfield.

That was particularly plain to see in the impressive 3-1 win over Arsenal, as Eriksen's passes to Fernandes were crucial in the build-up to two of United's goals.

Of the United players to feature for more than 190 minutes in the league this season, no one has averaged more passes (50.4), successful passes ending in the final third (11.2) or passes into the box (5.6) on a per-90-minute basis than Eriksen, highlighting how quickly he has managed to stamp his personality on their style of play.

"I'm not surprised one bit," Carrick told United's official website.

"I played against him a lot; I've watched him a lot. I like him a lot. He's a fantastic footballer. He's clever, he's smart.

"It almost doesn't matter what position he plays, he can adapt. He's just a clever, intelligent footballer with great quality.

"I was pleased when we signed him, and he's not surprised me one bit. He's a top player."

Eriksen carried his encouraging United form – which earned him their Player of the Month award for September – with him into the international window, impressing for Denmark over the course of their two games.

He scored a stunning long-range effort in the 2-1 defeat to Croatia before producing a wonderful performance in Sunday's 2-0 win over France as he remarkably laid on eight chances for team-mates.

To put that into context, Eriksen has only registered more key passes in a single club match twice (nine both occasions) since joining Tottenham from Ajax in 2013.

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  • Croatia v Belgium: Confidence, not quality, the key issue for Red Devils Croatia v Belgium: Confidence, not quality, the key issue for Red Devils

    Belgium have lost form at a terrible time at the World Cup, with their place in the last 16 at risk against Croatia, but Eden Hazard still believes in their quality.

    The Red Devils were out of sorts in beating Canada 1-0 and were duly punished in their second match against Morocco, losing 2-0.

    That defeat ended a 13-game unbeaten run in group-stage games at the finals, although they have not lost consecutive such matches since a sequence of three in a row across the 1982 and 1986 tournaments.

    Another reverse against Croatia – who impressed in crushing Canada – would see them eliminated, while a draw may not be enough either.

    "We have to do better, we cannot deliver the performance we want [right now]," said captain Hazard, who also skippered Belgium to the semi-finals four years ago.

    "We have to show it on the pitch, that is what counts. We still have quality in the group and are here to win.

    "We lack confidence because of that last pass and that last dribble. We have to regain that confidence."

    That lack of confidence is particularly evident in the final third, with Belgium netting with just one of 19 shots. That conversion rate of 5.3 per cent is their lowest at a finals since converting only three of 93 attempts in 1982 (3.2 per cent).

    Concerningly, Croatia have had no such issues of late, with their four goals against Canada tying their World Cup record for a single match (also vs Cameroon in 2014).

    The 2018 finalists have also won four of their past five group-stage matches, drawing the other, and their only defeats to fellow European nations in 10 World Cup meetings have been to France – in both 1998 and 2018.

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    Croatia – Andrej Kramaric

    Kramaric was in inspired form against Canada, scoring twice before being substituted 17 minutes from time when he surely would have backed himself for a hat-trick. It was only the second World Cup brace by a Croatia player (also Mario Mandzukic vs Cameroon in 2014).

    Belgium – Romelu Lukaku

    Lukaku has appeared for only nine minutes as a substitute so far at this tournament, but it is surely time for Belgium to turn to their main man. He has scored all three of the Red Devils' goals across their past two meetings with Croatia – both of which they have won.

    PREDICTION

    This is one of the most finely balanced matches of the tournament so far, according to the supercomputer. While Belgium are marginal favourites, given a 37.2 per cent chance of winning, Croatia are just behind on 36.5 per cent.

    Does that make a draw most likely? That result, which suits Croatia far better than Belgium, is rated at 26.3 per cent.

  • Canada v Morocco: Regragui says high-flying Atlas Lions 'haven't done anything yet' Canada v Morocco: Regragui says high-flying Atlas Lions 'haven't done anything yet'

    Morocco boss Walid Regragui warned his team are "ready to die for it" as they look to secure a last-16 spot at the World Cup and send a Group F heavyweight home.

    The Atlas Lions are on the brink of the second round after holding Croatia to a goalless draw and topping that result with a 2-0 victory against Belgium. They have recorded successive clean sheets in a World Cup for the first time since 1986, the only past finals where they went past the group stage.

    Their third game in Qatar comes on Thursday against Canada, who cannot go any further after failing to pick up a point so far. Morocco may be able to qualify for the knockout phase even if they lose, such is their strong position.

    Belgium, ranked second in the world, sit third in the group on three points, behind Morocco and Croatia who each have four. Croatia, the 2018 World Cup runners-up, will tackle Belgium at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, while Morocco and Canada do battle at the Al Thumama Stadium.

    Regragui said his team "haven't done anything yet" and he emerged with a host of injury worries after the Belgium game, with star defenders Achraf Hakimi and Romain Saiss among his concerns.

    However, the coach has no doubt over the collective will of his group.

    "They're ready to die for it. That's the spirit I want to tell you about, they don't want to be benched," he said.

    "We will face a hard team. They have been warning us a lot about Canada, so don't say that Canada is easy now. Canada are a great team, and we must respect them, so we can get a good result. The World Cup is not easy. We must fight towards the last minute, so that we can win."

    Canada coach John Herdman has described his team's final outing at this World Cup as "a huge game". They were edged out 1-0 by Belgium before being picked apart 4-1 by Croatia, with the focus now on returning home with a consolation victory, which would be the country's first on the World Cup stage.

    "We came here to make history," said Herdman. "This last game is about getting a result and winning for Canada, and really making this country believe that we're in the right direction for 2026."

    Morocco have not lost in three previous meetings with Canada in all competitions (W2 D1), most recently enjoying a 4-0 friendly win in October 2016.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Canada - Alphonso Davies

    After missing a penalty against Belgium, the Bayern Munich full-back made a swift impact in the Croatia game by scoring after one minute and eight seconds, giving Canada their first goal in a World Cup. He was typically dynamic and created two chances for others. Davies leads all Canada players for total ball carry distance (473 metres) and chances created (5) so far in the tournament.

    Morocco - Romain Saiss

    Captain Saiss made 11 clearances out of a team total of 21 against Belgium and made a tremendous nuisance of himself at Morocco's attacking free-kicks, getting a flick to Abdelhamid Sabiri's delivery to put the underdogs in front. He also won four out of four aerial duels, leading by impressive example.

    PREDICTION

    Stats Perform's AI model gives Morocco a 46.5 per cent chance of taking three points from this one, with the draw rated a 26.2 per cent shot. A Canada win should not be entirely written off though. Herdman's side were impressive in getting through to the World Cup and will want to show a final flourish, with their prospects of a win rated at 27.3 per cent.

  • Herdman wants to lead Canada at home World Cup after laying foundations in Qatar Herdman wants to lead Canada at home World Cup after laying foundations in Qatar

    John Herdman suggested he will lead Canada on home soil at the next World Cup and says their campaign in Qatar has laid the foundations for an improved showing in 2026.

    Canada impressed despite losing their Group F opener against Belgium last week, but their hopes of reaching the last 16 were ended when they surrendered an early lead in Sunday's 4-1 loss to Croatia.

    Herdman's team are looking to avoid the ignominy of matching El Salvador's record for the most World Cup games played without avoiding defeat (six) when they face Morocco on Thursday, but the Reds' dynamic style has won them admirers on their first appearance at the tournament since 1986.

    With Canada set to join Mexico and the United States in hosting the next World Cup, Herdman is focused on helping the side continue their upward trajectory.

    Asked at Wednesday's pre-match press conference whether he would be coaching the team in 2026, Herdman said: "I will be tomorrow. I will be excited tomorrow, absolutely. 

    "It's been 11 years of work in this country, and I have been pioneering for a long period of time. 

    "You will not find anyone as passionate as I am about this programme, or about these players or about the staff. 

    "You will not find anyone as passionate, who wants to take the company to that next level. You'll not meet anyone that's experienced this moment with this team, and the learnings that I'll take from this to take into the next one. 

    "The one thing you've seen from us is we've always come back strong. In [the Women's World Cup in] 2015, we finished sixth.

    "In the women's Olympics in 2016 we got back-to-back podiums, for the first time in over a century. Five years later, they take a gold medal [at the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics].

    "We came to this World Cup and [Belgium coach] Thierry Henry told me this team played them off the park. 

    "I'll take that. Because if that's our foundation, we've got a great four years ahead, and I can't wait to get after it."

    Canada have not beaten Morocco in the teams' three previous meetings (D1 L2), and they suffered a comprehensive 4-0 defeat when they last faced the Atlas Lions in a 2016 friendly.

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