“I think this is a key season for him. After two seasons at Tottenham, now is the moment for him. Not to put pressure, but it’s true. It’s a key moment for him to develop and to move on his game. It’s important,” were the words of Tottenham’s manager, Mauricio Pochettino, when speaking about what a crucial season 2015/16 would be for the enigmatic Erik Lamela.
“We believe we can develop his game and I think we need to be patient with him,” he added.
It must be said, so far, that Lamela’s exploits this campaign have been a major improvement on his underwhelming previous two. Spurs’ patience and persistence is now beginning to pay off handsomely.
One aspect that’s embodied Lamela’s fabulous upturn in form has unquestionably been his tireless, aggressive defensive output. That’s not to say he didn’t contribute here in the past, but he’s stepped up his level dramatically this term, something that obviously Pochettino, a Marcelo Bielsa disciple, deserves plenty of credit for.
Instilling a cohesive, effective pressing stratagem takes time, and while the signs were there last season, now into his second season with Spurs, the Argentine manager is getting his team firing in this regard.
They were particularly brilliant in their stirring win vs. Manchester City, but in their recent 1-1 draw with Arsenal, a game they dominated for 70 minutes and were unlucky not to win, their pressure was magnificent.
Lamela really led from the front in this fixture. Watching his exertions was like watching a man possessed, as he pressed relentlessly, hunting his opponents with unyielding intensity. Completing eight successful tackles accurately depicted how effectively he did so.
Pochettino’s decision to deploy his wingers in rather narrow positions allowed Tottenham, and in particular Lamela, to make life extremely difficult for Arsenal to pass out from the back. This meant whenever Arsenal’s central midfielders received possession, they had pressure from everywhere. By congesting the midfield and applying such heavy pressure Tottenham forced many turnovers, with Santi Cazorla often being the unfortunate victim.
Moreover, when the Gunners passed to their left-back, Nacho Monreal, Lamela would scream over to the Spaniard and get in his face. When combining this with his ferocity to track back as well, the former AS Roma sensation certainly put in a shift worthy of praise.
Michael Cox aptly wrote on his excellent contribution, penning: “Lamela was everywhere. He made 10 tackles, of which eight were successful – starting on the right, switching to the left, often making challenges in central positions because of Spurs’ compactness, and at one point nearly robbing Petr Cech on the edge of the Arsenal box.”
That Cech moment Michael referred to summed up Lamela’s approach beautifully. In this instance, after pressing the Arsenal keeper, his overzealousness saw him fall over and hit the deck in his attempt to win back possession. But Cech, unaware that Lamela had immediately sprung back to his feet, was soon dispossessed by the Argentine, who slid in with a mean challenge from behind. Although Lamela’s intervention didn’t fall to a teammate, his superhuman effort epitomised his team’s philosophy and what a key component of it Lamela now is.
Picking up a yellow for a rash tackle on Francis Coquelin showed the former River Plate prodigy’s tendency to get a touch agricultural in his challenges, but his manager surely wouldn’t be too upset by this, as the desire and commitment he exhibits is precisely what he’s after.
Amazingly, Lamela ranks third in the EPL for players who have won the ball back most times in their own half, on 12, only one behind Leicester City dynamo Jamie Vardy and Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho. A clear testament to his outpouring of effort and mentality towards winning back possession for his team.
When you factor in Lamela’s superlative attacking gifts, which see him able to beat opponents with ease, find space masterfully in the final third and supply intricate passes to his colleagues it’s obvious what a weapon he is for Pochettino, on both sides of the ball.
Pochettino’s trust and faith has been pivotal in getting his countryman firing on all cylinders.
“A player always needs time. Different players take different times. Zidane arrived at Real Madrid in his first season and the supporters blamed him. He found it difficult and he was Zidane,” said Pochettino.
“You always know that if the player wants it enough, and believes in himself, we only need to give him the opportunity and his quality will show. He has the potential, but the last two seasons were difficult for him.”
Judging from Lamela’s outstanding displays this season it’s easy to decipher just how much he wants to succeed at White Hart Lane.
Although Tottenham have been made to wait for their €30 milion investment to come good, he’s finally now proving why he was well and truly worth persisting with.
About the author – Edward Stratmann
Edward Stratmann writes regularly about the on-field aspects of the game, with a particular focus on tactics and analysis. In addition to featuring on These Football Times, Inside Spanish Football, Anfield Index, Just Football, The Eagles Beak, Think Football Ideas and JuveFC, you can also find Edward’s work at Licence to Roam, a football blog he started with his brother in 2013.