How Spurs’ improving star transformed his form without the ball
For 90 minutes on Saturday, White Hart Lane was a parallel universe. One where it was Tottenham handing out a drubbing to Manchester City, where offsides were no longer considered part of the rules and where Erik Lamela received a standing ovation.
While the former two glitches may prove to be rare sightings, the vocal support Lamela received upon being substituted in the 87th minute had been bubbling for a few weeks.
Slowly and quietly, the Argentine is starting to reach the standards his hefty price tag demanded upon becoming Spurs’ record signing in 2013. As is typical with a Mauricio Pochettino-coached player, the climb has come through his endeavours off the ball.
Having arrived from Serie A possessing all the skill and talent a South American forward would expect – his Europa League rabona goal is jaw-dropping proof of that – the pace and physicality of the Premier League shocked Lamela.
Although it has taken over two years for him to adapt, the 23-year-old’s acceptance of the top-flight’s rough and tumble has allowed him to regain his form in attack.
Against Man City, Lamela was the most obvious aggressor in a team full of willing pests. The former Roma man flew in to tackles, harassed and harangued his opponents and was a general bundle of energy. That hasn’t always been the case.
Jan Vertonghen, Ben Davies, Ryan Mason, Toby Alderweireld and Nacer Chadli all have fewer tackles in the Premier League than Lamela this term and only Mason made more than him last season.
The offshoot of his defensive work is he often wins the ball towards or beyond the halfway line, putting him ahead of his opposing fullback and with room to fashion chances for himself and teammates.
It is no surprise, then, that Lamela has created the most opportunities for Spurs this season, with 16, and is joint-top of the assist charts with two.
His goal against City will spike his confidence further and continued performances like the one at the weekend will only prompt more apologetic articles from U-turning critics, this author included.
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