Has Erik Lamela become the Premier League’s best two-way player?

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 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?

Defensive dueller

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.

per tackle
Lucas13.2 mins
Kante14.1 mins
Cabaye17.2 mins
Lamela17.3 mins
Fernandinho17,4 mins
Gueye17.9 mins
Fabregas18.2 mins
Gosling18.6 mins
Yacob19.1 mins
Noble19.8 mins

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.

Mins Per
Ball Recovery
S. Davis12.6
D. Fletcher13.0

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.

Attacking ally

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.

Mins Per
Chance Created
De Bruyne24.9

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.


Erik Lamela sneaks in off the shoulder of the last defender.

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.

Per Shot
J. King38.011.4%

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!

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15 Responses to Has Erik Lamela become the Premier League’s best two-way player?

  1. Nolram 14th April 2016 at 12:56 pm #

    Nice, insightful article – thanks!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 14th April 2016 at 1:27 pm #

      Thanks for reading Nolram.

  2. YouShubes 14th April 2016 at 2:41 pm #

    Hopefully Ledley can have a word or two with him regarding his decision making when it comes to putting a takel. His ability to get yellow cards, and thus Poch being forced to sub him off really hurts our flow as when Sonny comes his is CURRENTLY not as effective two way player. A pre season of walking over hot coals will help the spurs faithful see the Sonny that did so well for Leverkusen.

    Given his ability to cut in from the right and take shots with his left, the Bale comparisons were going to be an albatross around his neck. The false positives Andros was getting with his style of play, was not helping his cause either.. There is a really good article by Raj Bains on Umaxit which had a great premise, we are seeing the best of so many of our players (his article is Dembele focused) was due to supporting cast each player has.
    I think the same can be said for Lamela. Kane and Alli are making purposeful runs that Soldado was never quite able to (not really something you ask of a “fox in the box”) and Paulinho just too lazy too. He too reciprocates with intelligence in his movement e.g. the Kane winner against the goons last February look again at the position Lamela takes up. Dier as an insurance policy offers far smarter protection than Capoue was able to, and Sando’s injured body no longer let him do. He has a manager that a coherent plan, and does not stick Nacer Chadli in a DM spot just because he is a big guy. Dembele as a “head gasket“ in the midfield engine acts a secondary insurance policy, and his ability to bring the ball forward ,mean players like lamela can take higher positions up the pitch.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 14th April 2016 at 6:47 pm #

      Each player does have a good supporting cast and that is allowing guys like Lamela to flourish, but his individual effort has been outstanding this season.

  3. Chris 14th April 2016 at 4:33 pm #

    Can you please take Lamela’s price tag, and his supposed comparison to Bale, out of the discussion. I wasn’t a fan of Lamela in previous seasons, and it had nothing to do with either of those factors. After Bales fee to Real, 30 mil doesn’t seem like that much these days, and his attributes as a player is nothing like Bales. Its an assault on a true spurs fans intelligence that those superficial reasons would be anybody’s basis for not appreciating his play.
    I’ve warmed up to Lamela considerably this season, and he has progressed in many areas of his game, which is obvious in the stats you listed. However, I agree with youshubes that his supporting cast has improved this year, and the effective use of the offensive press has benefited his game greatly. Lamela does well pick-pocketing the other team during our offensive press, which has created good opportunities during the game, but when we lose possession he is always chasing the play, and giving up consequential fouls. This is where I struggle with the best two-way player assessment. Lamela and the team has done well this year playing to his strengths,and he has improved his decision making, but the unfortunate thing is that his weaknesses don’t seem to be improving too much (strength, speed, right foot).
    I think Lamela has come good on his fee, is a good tool to have in the shed,and is nothing like Bale. Lets drop that end of the argument. Ultimately, he is headed in the right direction, and I look forward to his continued progression.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 14th April 2016 at 7:04 pm #

      Hi Chris. The Lamela price tag and comparisons with Bale are the two things that other fans i speak to, who don’t like him, knock him with. Other people do have differing opinions of why he might not be their cup of tea, but these are the two that are most frequently cited to me in pubs or at the stadium when Lamela comes up for discussion. His 15 goals in Serie A for Roma the season before he came to us obviously didn’t help, as some, not all, fans saw him as a direct replacement for Gareth’s goals. When he failed to live up to those expectations, they obviously use it as a stick to beat him with.

      I agree his right foot is awful, but he has got a lot stronger physically and he is very quick, maybe not Kyle Walker quick, but fairly rapid across the ground and this causes teams problems. He also has exceptional stamina and runs himself in to the ground for the team, which goes a long way in my book. He does foul, but this is often from being too keen to win the ball back rather than being caught behind the play. I’d take him on my team any day.

      • Chris 14th April 2016 at 7:55 pm #

        How did those same people feel about Soldado? Lamela should have been sold to the public as future potential rather then a finished product.

        He is sufficiently quick enough I suppose, not Bale quick, but I wont hold that against him anymore.

        Could Bale return to Spurs? If he went to Madrid for silverware, then Spurs looks appealing right now. That fee would make Lamela’s a distant afterthought.

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 15th April 2016 at 12:04 am #

          I’ve not surveyed them all about Soldado so I couldn’t tell you if there is any correlation.

          Bale could come back, but I’m not sure we could afford the transfer fee and wages. The new stadium still has £300m of financing to find and is imagine that Levy will be watching the bottom line to manage this first.

  4. Paulo 14th April 2016 at 8:40 pm #

    Great article! Having read this blog for 3 years it’s also worth pointing out that your opinnoin about Lamela has been consistent and that is that the first season was a write off, the second was one to settle in and the third season would be the one to show us what he’s made of…. I’m pleased it’s working out and surely the best is still to come…

    A commentator said during the Liverpool game that one critiscism of Spurs would be we lack a magician to unlock defences… I guess the stats suggest we’re doing ok but sometimes it does seem a bit like that…

    What type of players do you think will be on our shopping list in the summer? I’d go for 3-4 players…
    1 player in the mold of box to box player with a lean towards defensive side, one who could slot in alongside Dier or Dembele. This would give us good rotation options and allow Dier to drop back into central defence if 2 of the regular centre backs are out.
    Then I’d try to sign 1-2 strikers, but try to ensure they are the type of striker who can play with and instead of Kane. Probably younger players would be the better option here.
    Finally, i might try to sign a “magician” but I’d probably leave it and count of Son, Chadli or Nie to step up….

    What do you think?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 15th April 2016 at 12:26 am #

      Great comment Paulo. I think we have a magician in Eriksen, all we need is a backup magician to rotate for him as he has again played major minutes this season. We have scored the most goals in the league this season, so not sure why commentators level that kind of thing?!

      I think you’re spot on in signings. We do need depth for Dembele and Dier. They make such a difference that we miss them hugely when they are out. With Champions League, we’ll need depth here as they both can’t possibly play every game. I agree with you about the striker. I think as a club we need to be clear on whether this player would be competition or a backup/rotation for Kane and the sign someone accordingly.

      The only other position I would look at is central defence. We have Toby, Jan and Wimmer (plus Fazio’s coming back from loan), but I’d like a fourth player in there (with Fazio’s sold) so Dier doesn’t have to play when he should be resting. This could be promoting someone or bringing someone in, but I think it’s necessary to cover injuries/suspensions and just the sheer number of games.

  5. Konsta 15th April 2016 at 10:46 am #

    I think Lamela needs to further improve on two things in order for him to take that final step towards becoming a truly quality player. Firstly, his defensive technique. For now his ability to win the ball back is all about passion and hard work which means that he’s giving away few fouls too many. The second thing is learning how to draw a bit more fouls from the opposition, being a smarter dribbler. (Something Alli and Kane do amazingly well for their age.)

    I think some people might consider these minor things and they kind of are, but together they go a long, long way of relieving pressure which is absolutely vital for intensive teams such as Spurs. If Lamela manages that you’ve got a pretty special player.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 15th April 2016 at 3:56 pm #

      Good post Konsta. I agree about drawing more fouls, he does need to be more aggressive with his dribbling to initiate contact.

  6. Dr JAB 17th April 2016 at 9:54 am #

    Hi Mark

    Its good to have your postings back again after the hiatus.

    I enjoyed your article about Lamela, who, as you know has been the subject of a couple of my posts. I have been positive about his growing conrtibution. Besides the great stats which you highlight in your article one thing that stand out for me is his occasional oblique “left field” passes that the opposition dont pick up which can unlock a defence. Often in the past his team mates didn’t read these either. His absences have also cost us – the Liverpool match being an example.

    I have also been a strong advocate for Dembele over an extended period and am delighted to see him be rewarded by support from the fans for his significant influence in driving us forward.

    The summer transfer period will be crucial for us to find additional resources. I can’t see N’jie being the alternative striker to Harry so we need someone else. Also a DM to relieve Dier as I dont agree with one of the writers above that he should deputise for Toby as the right CB. Although he can do these he needs a break. Therefore an additional right sided CB to rest Toby and sell off Fazio who cant cut it.

    My one concern ahead of next seasons CL is that 5 of our team are likely to be with the England squad and therefore a limited summer break which often means a late start to pre-season which often slows things down.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 17th April 2016 at 11:59 am #

      Hi Dr JAB, good to hear from you. The concern about the England lads is one i also share. Poch is one for doing a lot of fitness work in preseason, which the lads talk about the amount of running they do, so it will mean less time for conditioning depending on how far England goes in the tournament and how much time the players involved are given off afterwards. This is also appies for our players on other Euro teams and also at Copa America.

      Dembele has always looked like a player, its that we hadn’t found a purposeful use for him. The criticisms have always been that he passes the ball sideways or doesn’t shoot enough. In this system he doesn’t have to be anything other than a destructive force and not to turn the ball over. He doesn’t need to create chances or score goals, as that is the role of others. It’s allowed him to express himself with ball recapture and retention, which often stifles opposition attacks or his giant frame shields off opposition pressers. He’s now a very important player and I often wonder how we can replace him or offer a rotation option for when he needs a rest. Bentaleb may be the closest thing, but right now he looks to have regressed in his development and doesn’t even come close!

      The summer will be important. I don’t have faith in N’Jie as a centre forward either. I think he is a wide forward where his speed can be used as he doesn’t have the strength. I can only see him being used up top for anything other than maybe being a single game specialist option. We do need someone to rotate or switch for Kane though, especially given that we will be playing in the Champions League. Pochettino has shown that he is prepared to sit Kane for Europa League, but no way this happens in the CL, so his workload will be dramatically increased. I really like Batschuayi, but he comes with a very big price tage (reportedly €25m Euros buyout clause) and he would be straight competition for the role rather than a backup or rotation option. Same would go for Lukaku. I can’t see Kane playing as a number ten behind one of these two as that just nullifies his talents and removes someone like Alli from the team. I think as a club we need to be clear whether this player is a rotation option or genuine competition before either promoting from the U21s or identifying and going for targets.

      I also agree about going for another CB and DM as i think we need strength and depth throughout the spine of the team. Pochettino is a system coach, so having guys than can seamlessly step in and out, such as Wimmer did for Vertonghen, is necessary when playing 2 big games a week.

  7. YouShubes 17th April 2016 at 10:44 pm #

    If the season has taught us anything…if Poch wants you he can find a place for you…Also he is not shy about getting rid of mistakes e.g. Fazio, Benji

    Up until that Liverpool game I thought Dembele was a gonner. Now he is in the huge pack chasing Toby for player of the season. Clint has the speed, but can he add the upper body strength to go with that? With tools like the Vipr, Bulgarian bag etc there are way to develop strength in an explosive manner.

    RIght now I think man for man we have the best XI. I cannot think any player in the EPL that improves our strongest side that really playe as 13 going forward and defending if that makes any sense.

    I do find it off we have both Sonny AND Clint, and I think it likely that Clint may be jettisoned esp if we can get Batshauyi

    Agree Bentaleb has regressed, but by the time he heals he may be able to take advantage of the Euro 2106 players coming back late.If he can show the quality he showed so often last season and gain Poch’s favour again (lest we forget Poch played him a leftback once vs Everton so he clearly rated him) then maybe we don’t need the likes of Witsel. TBF I cannot think of anyone as powerful as Dembele that can dribble so well apart from CR7!

    Right now we have many that can fit in the 3, when fit. None too many up front, in DM, or at right CB