Erik ten Hag has found his own Kevin de Bruyne at Manchester United this season with the arrival of Christian Eriksen, with both midfield maestros sharing the same footballing philosophy about the things that really matter on the pitch.
As Marcus Rashford headed home his 100th goal for United against West Ham, the plaudits rightly went the way of the forward. It was a sumptuous header that Lukasz Fabianski could do little to prevent, as the now 25-year-old reached the milestone in emphatic style.
When the dust settled, and the replays poured in, the pin-point cross from Eriksen to pick out his teammate at the back-post left many speechless at the sheer quality of the delivery. The 30-year-old could hardly have placed the ball a millimetre in either direction and made the chance any better for Rashford.
Yet that was ‘only’ the Dane’s third assist in the league this season. Eriksen has been at the heart of all things positive for United’s creative and attacking outlets this campaign, making his relatively low direct goal contribution come as somewhat of a surprise.
In fact, Eriksen has registered 69 goal-providing passes over his career, and is just 11 assists behind David Beckham in the Premier League’s all-time records, agonisingly close to the top 10 – just five away from drawing level with Thierry Henry in 12th.
De Bruyne currently sits 5th on the list for all-time assists, already notching nine contributions for his teammates as he leads the way this season. Despite this gap between Eriksen and his City rival, Ten Hag knows just how valuable the former Spurs man is to his team.
Ten Hag values selfless players in his set-ups, those that are willing to sacrifice individual glory for the benefit of those around them. This is something that Eriksen completely buys into, as he revealed during his time at Tottenham.
He said: “The most important thing is to try to do your best. And if that is a pass to someone, who then gets the assist, or creates something else, that should be the aim for every game. Of course it will help if you make a goal or assist.
“I think mostly for people on the outside, it’s a lot about numbers or stats. More and more, that’s how the football world is going, in that direction. But I’m not really looking into it. I’m just trying to be the best I can, to create as much as possible. That’s just how it is.”
De Bruyne shares a similar mindset to the United midfielder when it comes to looking at statistics, as he revealed the value in learning from errors and ignoring the data behind certain actions on the pitch this week.
He said: “A lot of time when people make mistakes, they don’t do it anymore. When I make a mistake I try to do it twice more.
“I think it’s a way of learning where you go wrong and you understand more when you make errors. Maybe I look at it in a different way to other people. For instance, pass completion is a word that I don’t care about.
“It’s not important to me because it doesn’t define, in any way or form, the way that I play football. So I don’t take it into account.”
De Bruyne and Eriksen both know that helping their teammates to succeed on the pitch is far more valuable than any individual success. Ten Hag will be delighted with his midfielder’s approach to matches so far this season, and although recognition for performances is important, the Dutchman won’t care about the lack of assists, should it mean that Eriksen continues to put in performances of the standard that he has managed so far this season.