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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Eriksen and De Bruyne: Assist masters pulling the strings for Tottenham and Manchester City 

Another weekend of Premier League football demonstrated the importance of the Dane and the Belgian to their respective clubs, writes John McAuley.

Kevin De Bruyne, right, was instrumental in Manchester City's 5-0 Premier League victory over Liverpool on Saturday. Rui Vieira / AP Photo
Kevin De Bruyne, right, was instrumental in Manchester City's 5-0 Premier League victory over Liverpool on Saturday. Rui Vieira / AP Photo

They are the Premier League’s assist specialists, one reverting to a more familiar role, the other retreating into relatively unfamiliar territory.

Kevin De Bruyne and Christian Eriksen shone for Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur respectively on Saturday, the former pushed forward, the latter largely operating deeper. Both, though, contributed much.

De Bruyne was the catalyst to City’s thumping 5-0 victory against Liverpool, Eriksen the conductor in Tottenham’s comprehensive 3-0 win at Everton. The Merseyside clubs were outdone by a Belgian and a Dane, each revelling in fresh roles, each offering another endorsement as to why they constitute their teams’ most influential players.

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Having spent the first three matches of the season in central midfield, De Bruyne returned to a roving remit across the line behind striker pair Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus. He controlled the game, authoritative and incisive throughout.

De Bruyne created City’s first, and then their second. In between, his cross found Jesus, but the Brazilian was rightfully flagged for offside before heading home. Ultimately denied a hat-trick of assists, it took De Bruyne's Premier League tally since the beginning of the 2015/16 season to 29. Only Eriksen, with 30, has fared better.

The Tottenham man was equally instrumental against Everton. Deployed for sustained spells in central midfield - Mousa Dembele was a substitute - Eriksen dictated the tempo and the temperature at Goodison Park. He did not add to his 30 assists, but he scored the second goal, sandwiched between Harry Kane’s twin strikes. It made him the joint-highest scoring Dane in Premier League history, alongside Nicklas Bendtner with 32.

Christian Eriksen, so often Tottenham's creator, turned goalscorer in the 3-0 win at Everton on Saturday. Alex Livesey / Getty Images
Christian Eriksen, so often Tottenham's creator, turned goalscorer in the 3-0 win at Everton on Saturday. Alex Livesey / Getty Images

A more reliable goalscorer, Kane broke his season’s duck. He moved onto 100 career goals for Tottenham and past it. His double therefore demanded the headlines. But Eriksen’s cunning and craft had created the platform for Kane and Spurs to hit their straps.

He was dominant and decisive, much like De Bruyne. Two of the league’s lead schemers plotting their side’s path to a crucial three points. To two statement victories.

By the time the final whistle had gone at the Etihad, De Bruyne has climbed to 56 assists since the 2013/14 season, more than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues. Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria ranked immediately below him.

Eriksen sits a little back, but his value to Tottenham is no less. If Kane and Dele Alli are recognised as Spurs’ standout stars, England’s Great Hopes, then the Great Dane would be right to feel somewhat under-appreciated.

Eriksen created the opener for Alli on the opening day at Newcastle. His free-kick against Chelsea on Matchday Two forced Michy Batshuayi to head into his own goal. If Eriksen purrs, generally Spurs do, too.

He and De Bruyne could be the key cogs in respective title bids. In all probability, they will return to the positions with which they began the campaign. But both have supplied further examples of their ability to adapt and to still affect.

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