Thursday 17 October 2019

Stephen Hunt: Scouting missions must have us properly prepared to face Danes

Christian Eriksen is Denmark's star player
Christian Eriksen is Denmark's star player

Stephen Hunt

Denmark have some very good players, but Christian Eriksen is their Gareth Bale. I can pay the Spurs midfielder no higher compliment than that. Bale has the pace, Eriksen is technically better. And Ireland have to find a way to stop him, as we did with Bale in Dublin.

Eriksen is typical of the Scandinavian player who doesn't do silly things, is very calculated, intelligent and cool under pressure, and I don't think you can rough him up or get him involved in a physical battle. But you have to be on the same level as him in terms of football intelligence and anticipate danger around him.

It is guaranteed that Martin O'Neill will have scouts watching Eriksen against Liverpool today, and at all Spurs' games before the play-off. I would also expect him to have reports from the games around Europe featuring the regulars in the Denmark side.

You can over-complicate the analysis and get involved in covering too many games, but you have to do it. He may not give all the information to his players and tell them everything he's seen because you don't want to make them fear Denmark, but there should be no surprises.

He can also emphasise their weaknesses. In some games under Giovanni Trapattoni, I played as a defensive winger, but it was not my natural way of playing, so I would be told about the movement of the man I would be marking: where he goes, how he plays, his strengths and weaknesses. That is what O'Neill will be looking for in Eriksen's performances now.

Most of the research and information at the manager's disposal will come from videos of Denmark's qualifying games. Eriksen plays in a different position for his country, free of the restrictions placed on him within Mauricio Pochettino's team.

He will enjoy having that freedom and the responsibility that goes with it against Ireland. He has eight goals and the most assists in all the qualifying groups.

Tottenham play differently, where his role is that of an attacking midfielder in a very structured Pochettino team. He plays narrow to the left with Dele Alli playing off Harry Kane, but he will still do things over the next few games for Tottenham that the Irish back four and the midfielders can pick up on. Good players will take note of good players and watch and learn from them.

So I would want to know how I'm going to mark him. You can't afford to get too tight because, although he is not that quick, you can't allow him to turn and get space. He only needs half a yard to find a pass or a shot. And he can pick a pass and hit that shot with either foot.

He might play in a totally different team at Spurs, but he will still have the same movement and the same ability to hit the ball with both feet - and he can be lethal from 18 to 25 yards. He strikes the ball perfectly sometimes and two or three shots off his left this season really caught my eye.

He came to Spurs as a player who liked to be high on the left and has developed into a Pochettino attacking player who has adapted to the shape and structure of this team while still feeding into Kane and finding the space between the central midfielders and centre-backs to be effective. He is obviously the one Ireland have to watch.

Liverpool will line up with Jordan Henderson and Emre Can deep in midfield to deal with the threat of Eriksen when they face Tottenham at Wembley today and we will have to do the same. Glenn Whelan and David Meyler, when he's available, have to pick up the balls played into him and read his movement.

There will be much for the management team and players to digest. And we have to go about our business in the right way, as we did in the preparations for Wales. It is important that we keep our heads down, respect our play-off opponents and maybe stay off Twitter.

After the draw, I saw one player Tweet 'Bring on the Danes!' and I thought it was the sort of thing that is going to wind up the Danish players and supporters. I know they are not exactly renowned for being hot-headed, but we don't need to add fuel to the fire. It would carry more weight if it came from someone like Roy Keane, but we don't have a player like Keane in our side at the moment and the Danes know that.

And be careful about writing off Nicklas Bendtner. He's only 29, so he should be in his prime. He has had a good career and is scoring goals this season. He will be a handful.

Denmark are 19th in the world and were among the top four seeds in the play-off draw. We need to show them some respect, not shout from the rooftops or believe that we have already qualified. We just have to go out and beat them.

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