Wednesday 21 February 2018

Plenty of great Danes lurking behind Christian Eriksen

Tottenham star might be the main threat but there are many other talented players for Ireland to worry about, writes Jack Collins

Kasper Dolberg of Ajax is one of the hottest strikers around. Photo: Getty Images
Kasper Dolberg of Ajax is one of the hottest strikers around. Photo: Getty Images

Jack Collins

When Ireland drew Denmark for the World Cup play-off, a collective sigh of relief was almost palpable across the nation.

The draw meant that Ireland had avoided Croatia and Italy - as well as securing a second-leg home tie. This was probably the best fixture that Ireland could have asked for, but it doesn't fully recognise the fact that Denmark are a seeded team for a reason.

Denmark's midfielder Christian Eriksen. Photo: Getty Images
Denmark's midfielder Christian Eriksen. Photo: Getty Images

The Danes went into a group with Poland - who are ranked sixth in the world, above France and Spain - Montenegro (who boast the talents of Monaco's Stevan Jovetic and Atletico Madrid's Stefan Savic to name just two), and a decent Romania side, and came out swinging.

Dominates

As the Premier League dominates football discussion on this side of Europe, it's easy to focus on Tottenham's Christian Eriksen, but to single him out is to do a disservice to a side which combines a wonderful sense of flair and workmanlike execution.

Spurs' playmaker is the superstar of the team but he is just the largest cog in a well-oiled, slick machine that remains unbeaten since a change of system in March.

Up to that point, the Danish qualifying campaign had been hampered by inconsistency.

Nicolai Jorgensen of Denmark celebrates scoring against Belarus. Photo: Getty Images
Nicolai Jorgensen of Denmark celebrates scoring against Belarus. Photo: Getty Images

Playing a 3-4-1-2, which utilised wing-backs, allowed for two strikers to play ahead of Eriksen in the No 10 role, but it deprived him of wider support.

On the back of a disappointing 0-0 draw with Romania, which saw the Danes fall behind Montenegro and Poland in the running for the World Cup, a switch to a 4-2-1-3 has seen them mount an unbeaten charge into the play-off spot.

At the base of the midfield sits Werder Bremen's Thomas Delaney, widely seen as one of the best midfielders outside of Europe's elite, and heavily linked with a move away last summer.

Delaney's ability to influence the attack is summed up by the fact he scored a hat-trick from his defensive midfield role against Armenia, and ended the qualifying campaign as Denmark's second top scorer, behind Eriksen.

Former FC Copenhagen man Andreas Cornelius. Photo: Getty Images
Former FC Copenhagen man Andreas Cornelius. Photo: Getty Images

The Tottenham man remains in the hole, pulling the strings from behind a fluid front three which boasts a rotating selection of talent playing across Europe's top leagues.

There are a number of players who can spearhead the attack - from former Cardiff City man Andreas Cornelius, now at Serie A's Atalanta, to Kasper Dolberg, Martin Braithwaite. Another option Nicolai Jorgensen fractured his wrist while playing for Feyenoord yesterday.

The central striker is flanked on either side by Celta Vigo's pace merchant Pione Sisto and RB Leipzig wide man Yussuf Poulsen.

Both wide players are quick, direct and they know where the goal is.

In having the option to cut inside, switching to inverted wing play occasionally, and with the aerial threat in the middle encouraging crosses into the box, the Danes are tactically flexible and Sisto and Poulsen stretch the pitch to create space for Eriksen to thrive in the middle of the park.

Middlesbrough’s Martin Braithwaite. Photo: Getty Images
Middlesbrough’s Martin Braithwaite. Photo: Getty Images

The Danes boast an eye-catching array of attacking talent in these three positions. While the midfield three have remained settled since the switch, the same cannot be said of the attacking triumvirate.

The infamous Nicklas Bendtner remains in the frame, but it's the other options who will cause most concern for Ireland.

Ajax's Dolberg is one of the hottest striking talents around and is tipped for the very top of the game after an outstanding campaign in the Eredivisie and the Europa League last season.

His games, however, have been limited, as he's kept out of the side by a combination of the aforementioned Cornelius, alongside Braithwaite and Jorgensen.

Braithwaite, who has returned to fitness and is starting to find his range at Middlesbrough, is an excellent all-round option.

After scoring 11 goals in Ligue 1 last season for a struggling Toulouse side, and captaining them to safety in Ligue 1 for the second time in two seasons, he made the move across the English Channel to try and fire Middlesbrough back into the Premier League.

Comfortable playing through the middle and cutting in from the wings, Braithwaite's pace, versatility and trickery make him an indispensable option for the Danish manager from the off or from the bench to change a game.

The injured Jorgensen is a completely different player but will now be a major doubt. It all means that Ireland's strategy to keep the Danish attack at bay will need to be adaptable.

The 6ft 3in Feyenoord striker is aerially powerful and deceptively quick, having spent some of his career playing on the wing in Copenhagen.

If he is fit to play a part, his knockdowns and flick-ons will suit the pacey wide players Denmark utilise, and Eriksen, who gains possession and space from Jorgensen putting himself about.

Danger

He's a danger in the box too, leading the Eredivisie scoring charts last season with 25 goals for Feyenoord from 42 games, and notching 17 assists in the process.

The Denmark defence also deserves respect.

Simon Kjaer, captain for his country and a summer acquisition for Sevilla, knows how to win games. He sits at the heart of the back four with a rotating cast alongside him, marshalling the troops confidently. He tweaked a hamstring in their defeat to Barcelona on Saturday and his fitness will be giving manager Age Hareide sleepless nights this week.

Still currently emerging into a first-team player is another man seemingly destined for the top of the game in Chelsea's Andreas Christensen.

After two seasons on loan at Borussia Monchengladbach, Christensen was recalled to Chelsea this season to be a part of the senior squad.

Antonio Conte's formation of choice, employing three centre-backs, has meant that the young Dane has got significant Premier League game-time already.

Kasper Schmeichel, son of legendary Manchester United goalkeeper Peter, and a Premier League winner in his own right with Leicester City, is the Danish No 1.

Schmeichel can be hit and miss; some days he is unbeatable and on others the clangers just keep coming.

You don't, however, play entire Premier League winning campaigns if you're not good enough.

While Eriksen is the talisman, and remains a constant threat from set-pieces and open play, to diminish the influence of others in this team is to lull fans into a false sense of security.

There is no doubt that Ireland can win this tie, but be under no illusions that this is going to be a massive task.

The influence of the fans, those travelling to Copenhagen and then back home in Dublin, could be the difference between qualification or spending next summer sat sullenly at home.

There is absolutely no place for complacency.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport