Sky Sports ran an article recently praising the performance of Erik Lamela in the victory over Manchester United. As far as I’m aware, it is only the second time in his Spurs career that Lamela has been praised in such a manner, the first being Spurs’ 4-1 win over United’s ‘noisy neighbours’ earlier this season, and in the comments a neutral fan pointed out that they’d not really heard much about him other than how much of a flop he’d been since he joined Spurs for a club record fee of £25 million. Additionally, ex-Spurs owner Lord Alan Sugar tweeted at halftime during the win over Man Utd that he “don’t see it with this Lamela fella” and I have heard from many people whose opinions I respect that Lamela is nothing special.
Now, I’m not about to say that Lamela has been Spurs’ best player this season. In fact, one could argue that, of the first choice XI, he is the most obvious position to upgrade in the summer. After all, every one of Lloris, Walker, Rose, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Dier, Dembele, Eriksen, Alli and Kane has improved immensely and consistently turned out sublime performances. Support and alternative options to change a game are needed in the transfer window, rather than upgrades, in all of their cases. Not everyone will say that with Lamela. However, I would.
I would say that because no player in our squad has the desire to impress and prove a point as much as him. No player has improved as much as him. No player is as quick (Walker aside) or tenacious as him. Most importantly, no player embodies Mauricio Pochettino’s philosophy better than him. Pochettino has rightly received widespread praise for his coaching and tactics this season; the high press, the unending running, the positional rotation in attack and the niggly fouls to break up opposition play and intimidate opponents are staples of this Tottenham side. He needs every one of his players to completely buy into his system. They’ve all done that, but none more so than Lamela. When he doesn’t play he is greatly missed, such as in the recent draw against Liverpool or in both matches against Arsenal, where Spurs threw away a lead once Lamela came off the pitch.
I believe the reason for this is that the first choice support players behind the striker do not fulfil the same criteria that Lamela does. Chadli and Son Heung Min are not bad players, but neither have the pace, delivery or persistence of Lamela. I would go so far as to say that they replace Alli and Eriksen more appropriately. Chadli gets into good goalscoring opportunities and carries a goal threat in the same way Alli does. Son can spot an opening nicely and score from range (at least he did in the Bundesliga) like Eriksen. I’ll admit neither do so as well as the first choice players, but my point is that there is no one on the Spurs bench that brings what Lamela does to the table. From the limited game time he had before he was injured, I thought maybe N’jie might provide it and perhaps next year we will truly see why he was brought to the side. But for now, we can’t say with certainty and it’s why Lamela is a first XI shoe-in.
A neutral could look at Lamela’s stats to see how much he’s improved this season – second highest goalscorer in all competitions, third most assists, second highest ‘key passes’ and more tackles than any other offensive player. But as someone who watches Spurs every week, I notice how much our intensity and tenacity diminishes when Erik doesn’t play. His vision, consistency in end product and strength on the ball need to improve, but he has come a long way from where he was. Lamela is nowhere near Tottenham’s best player, but I’d argue he is one of the most crucial.
He is Pochettino-on-the-pitch. This is a tactic some of the most successful managers of recent history have used. Roy Keane or Nemanja Vidic embodied Sir Alex Ferguson’s winning mentality at Man United. Xavi and Iniesta did so for Pep Guardiola’s tiki-taka style, as did Patrick Vieira above all others for Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal. All of Tottenham’s first XI play Poch’s way, as did everyone for the aforementioned successful clubs, but Lamela has reinvented himself from a silky, luxury player to a Pochettino machine: tough tackling, committed, exhausting himself from effort and technically capable. Finally, something that often goes unmentioned by the media is Pochettino’s emphasis on ambition. This squad and their manager will almost certainly be gutted with 2nd place even though Champions League qualification was the pre-season aim. Lamela again has taken this to heart more than anyone, as told by his colleague, Danny Rose. Back in February, before Leicester had opened up an almost unassailable lead, Rose said: “I was having dinner with Lamela and I was still asking him if he reckoned we can finish top four. I’ve never seen someone look at me with such disgust. He said, ‘My friend, we can win the league’.” Casting aside the image of this romantic dinner date, I love that attitude from Lamela. Yes, it appears as though he was overly presumptive (this year), but it proves he’s gotten over any lingering doubts that he must have had when he first joined the club, and I look forward to seeing what he will bring to the team next year.
This article was previously published on acockonaball.wordpress.com.
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