We’ve seen glimpses of potential with Erik Lamela, but are more consistent performances on the horizon?
False dawns. We’ve been here before with Erik Lamela. His wicked curling drive in to the corner against Burnley and the audacious rabona goal in the Europa League. Both strikes hinted at the lighting of the blue touch paper that would see our record buy explode in to the player we thought he could be. On both occasions it failed to come to fruition.
However, change may well be in the air. Lamela has recently returned to the first team after missing almost a month and the performances have picked up, hinting that more is on the horizon. Not always in the ways you’d expect though. The Argentinean is doing it with a defence first attitude, as his pressing and harrying of the opposition obviously pleases Mauricio Pochettino.
Erik Lamela closing down
What has been extremely noticeable about the play of Erik Lamela since returning to the line-up has been his speed and energy to close down opposing players. Mauricio Pochettino has worked on our team’s fitness and levels of stamina and it is paying off through increased pressing to regain possession and late goals.
Lamela has always had an ability to retrieve the ball from the opposition, something we looked at that he would bring to our team when he signed for Spurs. His trouble with fouling that he had at Roma still continues, but in our last two Premier League matches, he has been recovering the ball, often in the opposition half.
He did this well against Arsenal, where his drifting in to the centre saw him regain the ball in dangerous areas for the Gooners.
In our last Premier League match with Liverpool, he defended much wider and provided better cover for Kyle Walker, but still retrieved the ball in their half.
His three fouls in the Liverpool match show that the problem with conceding free kicks still remains. However, energy and speed to close down the opposition is something Pochettino requires from his wide forwards and Erik Lamela provides this along with an added tenacity that others don’t have.
Erik Lamela on the attack
Whilst Erik Lamela has done a very good job on the defensive side of the ball, there have been a few signs he is improving on it as well.
The first is his ability to drift in to the space between the lines so that he can get on the ball and dribble with it. Erik Lamela is a much better player when he can receive the ball on the half turn or facing the opponent’s goal rather than when he has his back to it.
Lamela was constant threat doing this against Sheffield United in our Capital One Cup semi-final.
With the Blades chasing the game, he drifted constantly in to the spaces beyond their midfield, picked up the ball and drove forward with it to release Harry Kane.
A slight change that Mauricio Pochettino has made to the midfield has given him more space to do this. Our head coach has Ryan Mason playing a lot more through the left side, which removes the a player inside of Lamela, creating more area for him to cut inside and roam in to. We can see this in the Sheffield United game above, but also at Liverpool, where Dembele has come deep from the number ten position and Lamela has peeled in to his space with Mason further over to his left.
What this does is get Erik Lamela on the ball, in space and travelling towards goal where he is much more of a threat than in traffic with his back to it.
This allows him to run in to central areas and play short through balls for Harry Kane. Here Kane was unlucky not to score as Lamela played a reverse pass for him to run on to.
This sighter paved the way for a better execution of the ploy, as Kane levelled the scores up at 1-1.
In the second half, Lamela would burst through again and miss an obvious pass to Mason running through on his left, highlighting the shift of Ryan once more. It had created the space for Erik Lamela to run in to, but also magnified his decision-making, which is still hit and miss.
Overall, Erik Lamela was having a big influence on the game by getting in to the space between the lines and playing through balls. His execution, as the Mason incident showed, still requires some work.
False dawn or first rays of change?
Erik Lamela arrived with the reputation of having been something of a goalscorer in Serie A. Although these are yet to flow from the Argentinean’s boot, recent matches have hinted that he is becoming a factor in other ways.
The defensive tenacity that was often overlooked in his game in Italy has been coming to the fore. It’s no coincidence that our pressing game has become more of a factor since he returned to the line-up and Mousa Dembele has been moved alongside him at the number ten position.
Mauricio Pochettino is also finding ways to get him on the ball so that he can have space to run at the opposition defence rather than operating in a congested midfield. These two attributes have seen him become more of a team player, but he is also developing in to an important cog in the machine that our new head coach is building.
Until the goals start to arrive, then he will never justify the £30 million price tag, as these are a pre-requisite when spending this kind of money. He is just 22-years old though and after last season was a non-starter due to injury, this one could be viewed as his acclimatisation to the English game.
Erik Lamela’s first season in Italy yielded just 4 league goals, which was followed by a breakout 15 in the following campaign. So, next season may just be when we get to see the best of our record buy.