With news breaking yesterday of Argentine Erik Lamela’s eagerness to sign a new contract with Tottenham Hotspur, it is clear that the winger’s hunger and passion for Premier League football is greater than ever. However, is he one of Spurs’ key players this season?
The Argentine international has been questioned by sections of the Spurs fanbase so far this season – but then in this regard, he is one of many; Christian Eriksen no longer controls games in the way he once did, while new boy Vincent Janssen is yet to score from open play.
Lamela’s criticisms are harsh, albeit valid. He is prone to diving in, in unnecessary positions, and is liable to cheap bookings early in games that limit the extent to which he can challenge for duels due to the risk of being sent off.
For a winger, goals are also lacking in his game; despite scoring an excellent header on the opening day at Everton, Lamela hasn’t really pushed on in the league in this regard.
The Argentine lacks the blistering pace that would make him an invaluable asset to this current Spurs side, and as a result can appear one-dimensional going forwards – in a system that is reliant on inverted wingers, with fullbacks providing the width, Lamela’s game is often predictable, as he has little choice other than to cut inside onto his stronger left foot.
Despite this, he’s still a huge asset to the squad. Lamela was one of the first players to truly buy into Pochettino’s high-press system, and it’s worked wonders for him – his energy and work-rate are second to none.
Perhaps the best illustration of this is the perceived ability of the fullback behind him; Kyle Walker – one of Spurs’ best players last season, and arguably the best right-back in the league this year, looks a shadow of the player he can be at international level.
One factor contributing towards this must be that England lack a workhorse with a skill-set like Lamela; Walker is often much more isolated against smart wingers at international level and this proves his undoing.
Furthermore, his direct running and ability to pick a lock are vital skills to the current Spurs squad. Lamela is at his best when he’s running directly at players; he can beat a defender and thread a ball through to other forwards to finish off.
His role going forwards is so often as a catalyst for the attack, instead of as the finisher – and this is what causes him to be so heavily under-rated by both Spurs fans and others in the league. His goals and assists don’t reflect his relative importance to the team, which is obviously something to work on, but it shouldn’t be a cause for concern.
At 24, the Argentine’s best years are ahead of him, and he will only improve, as will his consistency – the winger was a bit of an enigma last season; winning games with delightfully intricate passes – like against Manchester City at the Etihad, where he set up Christian Eriksen’s winner – but would go missing for others.
If anything, the latter is not a criticism that can be levied at him this year; there can be no doubting his work-rate and effort. He might lack the touch of stardust that makes the best players a cut above, but this can be compensated for by a stronger team work-ethic, and a passion for the game that is so clear in Lamela’s game now.
The Argentine’s desire to stay in North London should be celebrated by Spurs fans; it is yet another reflection of the strong team spirit at Spurs, but also that first-team players want to commit their long-term futures to the club. Manager Mauricio Pochettino is well on his way to creating something truly special at Tottenham Hotspur.
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