Not too long ago, I wrote about Spurs’ injury situation and the potential impact of certain players once they were eligible for selection again. While it turns out I was, well, wildly optimistic with my recovery estimates for some players (wherefore art thou, Wanyama?), one player whose return seems quite imminent is Erik Lamela. The young attacking midfielder has had an injury-riddled career since moving to Spurs in 2013, but slowly began to establish himself as a key man in Pochettino’s system after a difficult first season.
When he’s fit, Lamela definitely adds quality to this team. But in a season where his teammates are already performing so well, what specific benefits can the lad bring to the table? Let’s get into 5 areas in which Lamela can make a positive impact when he comes back to the fold.
1. Set pieces. Set pieces. Set pieces.
At this point, I feel as though most Spurs fans are resigned to the fact that our ability to threaten from set pieces is quite lacking. We haven’t scored off a corner since last season; and that’s with an absurd amount of aerial threats like Dier, Alderweireld, Sanchez, and Kane starting almost every game. Likewise, our scoring drought from direct free kicks has gotten quite extensive despite possessing specialists like Eriksen, Kane, and Trippier.
Direct free kicks at goal are, unfortunately, a matter of form. Eriksen and Kane simply haven’t been dialed in on that front this season, and until one of them breaks that trend there isn’t really a way to improve that element of our game. Our delivery from corners and other free kick opportunities, however, can certainly improve; and this is where Lamela comes in. The Argentine’s service on chances like these is significantly better than Eriksen’s, and has led to quite a few goals in previous seasons. Alderweireld in particular is a big fan of Lamela’s deliveries, notably scoring from them in big matches against the likes of City…
At the very least, Lamela brings another option (left-footer) to our set piece opportunities. Once he’s back to his best, though, he’ll likely be our most consistent provider from corners and other set pieces that aren’t a direct hit at goal. I can’t wait to have him back in the team and whipping in deliveries for our aerial threats.
2. Dedication to the press
One of the reasons behind Lamela’s career renaissance at Spurs was Poch’s insistence on playing a high-press system. Turns out that in addition to being very technically-skilled, “Coco” as he’s affectionately referred to is also an absolute machine when it comes to chasing the ball down. His attention to defensive duties makes Lamela a rare-breed when it comes to attacking midfielders in that he’s as willing to help win the ball back as he is take it forward.
In Poch’s set-up, Lamela’s manic dedication to the press beautifully compliments the high work rate of guys like Kane and Eriksen. Furthermore, when Lamela wins the ball in advanced positions, he’s good enough to pick out a killer pass as well. When the Argentine is back in the rotation of available attacking midfielders, Pochettino will have a quartet of Eriksen, Son, Lamela, and Dele to choose from. That much talent would be the envy of any team in England, and will help ease the burden of multiple competitions later in the season.
3. Goals from midfield
Given his injury struggles, Lamela’s goal-scoring record with Spurs isn’t necessarily the greatest. That said, he chipped in with a fair few during his relatively uninterrupted 2015-2016 campaign. 11 goals in 44 appearances across the league and Europe is decent when you consider he’s often deployed in a support role and not as the main attacking thrust at forward. For comparison, that roughly 25% strike rate was better than Eriksen’s (8 in 47 apps), Son’s (8 in 40 apps), or Dele’s (10 in 46 apps) that season.
It’s tough to say whether Lamela will hit the ground running when it comes to scoring upon his return. But if he gets back in form, he could very well add further goals to the impressive firepower already at Poch’s disposal. Goals from midfield were huge for Spurs last season, with Eriksen, Dele, and Son all hitting double figures in support of Kane. If Lamela can chip in with even 5-10 more, we’ll be in great shape offensively.
This one is perhaps harder to quantify than others, but I believe it’s relevant to player performance. Much has been made in recent weeks of the team spirit at Spurs, partially due to the result against Madrid but also in reaction to the release of a book detailing Poch’s process at Spurs. It’s pretty widely accepted, however, that a lot of Spurs’ success in recent years can be attributed to the change in attitude that has occurred since Pochettino took over. The squad has gelled together quite nicely, and both the manager and his player’s attitudes are responsible for it.
In this regard, Lamela has always been a positive influence. He celebrates team goals with genuine enthusiasm, is known as something of a joker among teammates, and enjoys a particularly close relationship with his manager and fellow Argentine Poch. You get the feeling his teammates will be truly excited to have him back on the field and that their encouragement could help him regain his best form quicker than expected.
5. Pure entertainment
Sometimes, you win in thrilling fashion. Case in point, Spurs 3-1 thrashing of Madrid. Other times, you have to win ugly. Our scrappy 1-0 win over Crystal Palace this past weekend, for example, was definitely not a classic.
Regardless of how the team plays, fans expect entertainment. Outside of Dele, who nutmegs opponents so often I suspect it’s an incentive built into his contract, Lamela is indisputably one of our most dynamic and exciting players. Whether he’s scoring an outrageous Rabona in the Europa league…
…or embarrassing former Tottenham players with a bit of skill…
…the kid knows how to light up a game. His showcases of skill aren’t restricted to beating up on inferior opponents, either. Lamela also tends to step up to big games with important goals, which in itself is very pleasing to fans. One of my favorites is this sweet finish against United, complete with a legendary call from Martin Tyler…
Lamela is a Poch player through-and-through, and the kind of skillful spark that excites teammates and fans alike. With his colleagues already performing really well this year, some fans have wondered aloud about how he’ll fit back in with Poch’s well-oiled pressing machine. For me, it’s obvious that he’ll provide a number of benefits when he finally pulls on the white shirt again, and I can’t wait to see what he brings us this season.
Writer’s note: All video clips used in this article are sourced from YouTube and are the property of their respective copyright owners.