Tottenham have struggled of late and without doubt a huge part of those struggles hinged on the fact that the side was lacking creativity. Mauricio Pochettino has one of the best forwards in world football in Harry Kane but of course, he can only create magic if he gets the ball in the first place. In recent seasons, most of the creative burden has been placed on Christian Eriksen but after a topsy-turvy summer with the Dane indicating his interest in moving somewhere else, another person had to step up. Step in Erik Lamela.
The 27-year-old has struggled over the years to fulfill his potential or the £26m fee paid to Roma for his services in 2013, when he was one of the ‘magnificent seven’ bought with what would become the Gareth Bale money.
Much of Lamela’s struggle has come through injury, first a back problem which fragmented his first season and then that 13-month injury hell during which he required surgery on both hips.
The Argentine showed enough after returning from that long lay-off in the remainder of the 2017/18 season to earn himself a new four-year contract the following summer.
However, last season brought more niggling injuries, breaking up his campaign, particularly during much of the festive period as well as March and April, as Lamela started just nine Premier League matches in his 33 appearances across the campaign. He managed six goals and three assists (Transfermarkt).
Pochettino has stuck with his compatriot throughout his injury troubles though and now when the Spurs boss will hope that Lamela will pay him back through his toughest period at the club.
The midfielder has already notched three goals and three assists (Transfermarkt) and has seven Premier League starts to his name, just two short of the previous year’s total.
At a time when Pochettino needs players who have got his back, Lamela is that man.
The Tottenham manager once admitted that his fellow Argentine was the first person to buy into his philosophy when he joined the club in 2014.
Lamela is a rare kind of attacker in that he’s as aggressive as he is creative. He’s a horrible player to play against, all elbows and slide tackles, hassling and tussling while rolling his foot over the ball as he dribbles and attempting risky through balls.
He divides opinion amongst Spurs fans. There’s no denying his desire to fight for the cause but his injury record has frustrated many and what some see as bravery in his passing others believe to be wasteful.
Early on there was very much a Son or Lamela debate to be had, with the Argentine often keeping out Son Heung-min during the South Korean’s first two seasons.
That’s no longer a debate to be had as Son has gone to become a mainstay of the Tottenham team and now a Ballon D’Or nominee with Lamela the one who found himself in and out of the side, yet this season and Tuesday night, in particular, showed Pochettino just how devastating the duo can be when used in tandem.
The pair destroyed Red Star Belgrade in the Champions League, Son scoring twice and Lamela laying on two assists and scoring himself.
That’s because a new role has opened up for Lamela in the void left by Christian Eriksen’s current exile to the fringes of the Tottenham team.
Pochettino built this Tottenham team around the Dane, but Eriksen has since admitted he wants to leave the club, his contract is in its final nine months, his form has been wretched and he picked up a dead leg on international duty.
That has left the manager working out how to rebuild the team to work without the Dane’s creativity. Tuesday night suggested that for the time being the Son, Kane, and Lamela sandwich is the way forward.
Summer signing Giovani Lo Celso was meant to help Spurs’ transition from the Eriksen era but injuries have claimed another Argentine under Pochettino’s stewardship this season.
The 23-year-old made his first steps back on Tuesday evening following two months out with, somewhat ironically, a hip injury and his time will come.
In the meantime, Pochettino will turn to another of his compatriots in Lamela to fight the good fight while providing some service to the starved Harry Kane.
The Spurs boss needs people he can count on, and as long as he can steer away from those wretched injury woes, Lamela will be there for him.