Erik Lamela is once again at the heart of Tottenham’s early season Premier League form.
The 27-year-old is now almost a veteran in a young squad and proving he could well be vital for Mauricio Pochettino’s attempts at returning his team to their form of old.
A 4-0 win over Crystal Palace showcased an intensity and an attacking style missing for well over a season, despite their Champions League final appearance last year.
For most of the 2018/19 campaign, it felt as if Spurs were stumbling towards the finish line, an injury-racked squad succeeding, for the most part, because Arsenal and Manchester United failed to capitalise.
Lamela was one of those absent towards the end of the year, suffering a hamstring issue – just when the club needed him.
It’s been a common theme for him too. As well as last season, his 2013/14 and 2016/17 were both curtailed by injuries.
Last year he fired a warning shot he was ready for a big role, managing four goals and an assist in the league by early November, while netting against Barcelona and also laying on the ball for Harry Kane in their 4-2 loss at Wembley.
From there he was only available in patches. His 2016/17 was similar, nabbing two goals and creating seven across all competitions in Spurs’ opening 14 games before hip injury struck.
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It’s fairly surprising to note Lamela has played in 192 matches for Tottenham, despite only managing more than 30 league appearances twice since his arrival at the club.
The Argentine is now into his seventh season as a Spurs player and he continues to be under-appreciated when he does play.
A £30million purchase from Roma in 2013, Lamela, has been plagued by back and hip issues, with the latter seeing him miss 57 games between October 2016 and November 2017.
When signed during the club’s courageous but calamitous attempt to replace Gareth Bale, it was believed he the then 21-year-old would offer an almost like-for-like replacement for the Welshman.
He was showcased playing on either wing and firing left-foot shots beyond helpless goalkeepers on YouTube showreels.
His first Premier League goal for the club, against Burnley (a year and four months after signing), was almost identical to some of Bale’s blockbuster’s from the right flank in his final year at Tottenham.
Things have changed since then. Lamela, it became apparent, perhaps due to the injuries, wasn’t able to deliver anything like what fans had seen from Bale – a point which appears to have consistently dogged the midfielder.
Supporters haven’t taken him to their hearts like they have others. His injuries, his lapses in form, and a club-record price-tag, frustrating those in the stands and around the globe.
It’s now his tenacity and his close control which mark him out. He’s able to provide attacking output with style but pairs it with relentless work and running off the ball.
A key cog when Pochettino’s men are pressing, it’s no surprise in his best season for the club he registered the same number of assists as he did yellow cards – nine.
His manager evidently trusts him too. Lucas Moura may have been the hero for Tottenham at the end of last season but he can’t deliver the same defensive contributions of Lamela.
Starting in key clashes against Manchester City and Arsenal, the latter was relentless and harried the opposition when required.
In the clash with City he managed to notch a goal and an assist while also winning two tackles and making an interception.
His spritely teammate was left to impact the game from the bench and didn’t even appear against the Gunners.
Against Crystal Palace, when one might have expected him to drop out for Lucas, he remained in the XI.
From the first whistle he showed the grit and determination, something evident as he continues to mature in north London.
He tore down the pitch alongside Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son as they looked force a turnover from Crystal Palace high up the pitch following a long ball from Jan Vertonghen. They got it too, with Serge Aurier picking up the pieces.
Just five minutes in, after a shot from Son, it was Lamela, not Kane, who was following in for any rebound that might have occurred.
His ability to play both on the flank and inside as a No.10 gave Palace all sorts of concerns too, leaving their narrow back-four to give room to the marauding Aurier.
This directly led to their second, while Lamela himself tucked away the fourth from his Ivorian teammate. It was his first home goal for a year.
In a recent interview, Lamela claimed his adoration for Tottenham was growing by the campaign.
He professed: “I love Tottenham too much, every season more and more. It’s been a lot of seasons here, a lot of years.
“Every season my love is more. My family is very happy that I’m here.”
If he can make sure this promising start isn’t diminished by injuries once again there’s a good chance he can be a major catalyst for success.
If he can do this the Spurs fanbase will return the love in kind – if he can’t the naysayers will continue to pillar him and an exit with little fanfare will be the sad conclusion for the under-appreciated star.
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