A factor in both the Tottenham defence and attack, has Erik Lamela become the Premier League’s best two-way player?
Erik Lamela is a player that divides a fan base. For some he is merely a figure of fun, a product of the scattergun-spending spree from the sale of Gareth Bale, the player whose boots he was supposed to fill. For others, he has become the embodiment of a new Tottenham, the Mauricio Pochettino Tottenham. A tenacious hard-working, high-octane side that never lets up.
Lamela’s first two seasons at Spurs were largely forgetful. This campaign has seen a radical change after Mauricio Pochettino throw down the gauntlet.
“After two seasons at Tottenham, now is the moment for him.” Said Pochettino back in September. “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.”
And Lamela has responded. Inside sources in the transfer market like transferrumours.co.uk reported his talks with regards to a move to Marseille. But Lamela decided to stay at Spurs and his tenacity to prove himself to the fans knows no boundaries. Going to ground and scrapping for a loose ball against Man Utd embodied much of the fighting spirit that has become his trademark. Winning it back while on the turf, then starting the break towards the Man Utd goal for Dele Alli to open the scoring, busting open what was a tight game.
Lamela then went on to create the second goal and slot home the third in a performance highlighting just what a two-way player he has become. A pressing defensive menace that can regain possession high up the pitch and an attacking threat to open the opposition up and put the ball in the back of the net.
True two-way players are a rare commodity in the Premier League. The top performers are either excellent attackers or shut down defenders. So how does Erik Lamela compare with the best in the business?
Erik Lamela’s initial calling card was defence. His tiggerish enthusiasm to win the ball back has never been in doubt during his time at Tottenham. It was always once he had regained it that the problems started.
Compared to the best tacklers that the Premier League has to offer, Lamela is only bettered by three players for frequency of winning the ball back.
Only Lucas Leiva, N’Golo Kante and Yohan Cabaye make more frequent tackles than Erik Lamela among Premier League midfielders and strikers. Pretty special company.
If you look at all ball recoveries, rather than just ground tackles, then Erik Lamela performs well again. He’s not as prolific as the defensive midfield players, and you wouldn’t expect him to be, especially given Tottenham’s large percentage of ball possession in matches. In spite of this, he only sees a handful of attacking players – Ramsey, Fabregas Albrighton, Lanzini, Zaha, Alli, Afellay – that more frequently regain the ball than he does.
Lamela does bring an infectious effort to ball recovery. He is always snapping at the opponent’s heels, looking to steel in and swipe the ball away. His tenacity has to be applauded, but one problem that he has is that he can frequently foul. This was a factor when he signed for Spurs from Roma and is still to be ironed out of his game. Only Dwight Gayle, Joe Allen, Andy Carroll, Ramires, Nathan Dyer, Eder and Adlene Guedioura commit more fouls per 90 minutes than Erik Lamela among players with at least ten Premier League appearances this season.
Although not always the stealthy pickpocket, one reason for Lamela’s high rate of transgressions, is that Spurs as a team have committed the third most fouls in the Premier League this season. Mauricio Pochettino preaches more aggressive ball recapture, encouraging his players to regain possession quickly through front-foot defending. This can see impetuous challenges, which result in more fouls.
A true two-way player doesn’t just defend and recover the ball for his team, but contributes to the attack as well. In season’s past this has been Lamela’s downfall, but he is fast turning that around this campaign. He has been creating chances for others, as well as getting his own shots at goal.
The Premier League is awash with creative players that can fashion scoring chances for others at will. The competition has intensified this season with the arrival of Dimitri Payet and Kevin De Bruyne to add to the usual suspects. However, Erik Lamela has broken his way in to the top ten this season for minutes per chance created.
Christian Eriksen naturally comes out much higher up the list, but Erik Lamela has been creating a chance every 35 minutes on pitch. This is only 10 minutes slower than the dynamic Dane who takes the majority of free kicks and corners.
When it comes to getting shots on goal, Erik Lamela has also improved his output. Earlier in the season we looked at the secret to Lamela’s attacking success this term, which revealed just how much more often he was getting in the penalty area. He is playing much more on the shoulder when the ball goes out to the other side of the pitch and that is producing attacking returns. His header wide and goal against Man Utd on the weekend illustrated this once again and it is paying off for him with attacking production.
If we look at the most frequent shooters among Premier League midfielders, Erik Lamela, again, is highly productive. This is especially true given the number of other players that are the regular free-kick takers for their sides.
Lamela’s shot at goal of very 40 minutes sees him ranked highly among Premier League midfielders. Coutinho and Alexis Sanchez naturally lead the way, but among the two-way players that we’ve seen that are a factor defensively as well as in attack, only Aaron Ramsey betters his shot frequency, with Yohan Cabaye just behind.
When it comes to goal conversion, Lamela betters Ramsey for finishing his chances and is equal with Cabaye – although the Crystal Palace man takes penalties, which have a much higher chance conversation.
Is Erik Lamela the Premier League’s best two-way player?
Looking at the numbers and only Yohan Cabaye and Aaron Ramsey challenge Erik Lamela for the Premier League’s best two-way player.
Yohan Cabaye, remarkably, has the same frequency of tackling and ball recovery as Lamela. In the attacking phase, Cabaye has a similar frequency of shot attempts, but doesn’t come close when it comes to chance creation. Advantage Erik.
Aaron Ramsey makes fewer tackles than Lamela, but overall recovers the ball more frequently. He gets shots at goal slightly more often too, but is less accurate with his goal conversion. However, Ramsey also falls down massively in chance creation versus both Cabaye and Lamela. The Arsenal man’s chance created every 73 minutes is well down on Cabaye’s 54 minutes and Lamela’s 35 minutes.
Is Erik Lamela the best two-way player in the Premier League? The answer is simply, yes. He not only brings ball recapture, chance creation and attack, but also an intangible spirit and infectious enthusiasm that is missing when he is not in the team. What’s more, at just 24-years old, he only stands to get better. The rest of the Premier League better beware!