Erik Lamela is showing promising signs at Spurs as Mauricio Pochettino continues to find ways to get him on the ball and in space.
We were starved of seeing Erik Lamela last season, as our record signing spent much of it on the sidelines.
This term, the Argentinean is finding his feet in the Premier League and Mauricio Pochettino is trying to create space for him.
We started out the season playing with a trio of Nacer Chadli, Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela playing as three advanced midfielders off Emmanuel Adebayor. The trio had licence to switch positions and effectively filled lanes within the attack.
Against QPR we can see how Erik Lamela received the ball all the way across the pitch, as he Chadli and Eriksen filled and mixed the left, central and right hand roles of the trio.
The key for the Argentinean is for him to pick the ball up in space. The circled area is crucial for Lamela, as this is often where the gaps are between the lines, an area he excels in. He is much better receiving the ball whereby he can run forward at the opposition defence, than when he has to do it with his back to goal and a defender on him.
Here we can see how he is in acres, whereby he can receive the pass and run at the opposition. This was just prior to his assist on Nacer Chadli’s second goal, as QPR paid heavily for going without a true defensive midfielder.
This revolving of positions of our three advanced midfielders continued on our away trip to the Stadium of light. Once again Lamela had licence to drift across the pitch as he Chadli and Eriksen switched roles.
Lamela got between the lines to ping an effort off the bar. He was also fouled on several occasions as Sunderland tried to stop him running with the ball through this zone.
Opposition stifling the centre
What happened between the QPR and Sunderland games was a display of how to stop our attacking trio, and especially Erik Lamela, getting in to this space.
Liverpool’s diamond exposed a Pochettino trait from his Southampton days in that you can stifle his rotating trio by packing the centre. The Reds did this with well-drilled precision as they ran out 3-0 winners.
With others learning from Brendan Rodgers side, West Brom rolled up to the Lane and played Chris Brunt extremely narrow to also pack the centre.
Erik Lamela once more had a quiet game and Mauricio Pochettino now had to consider ways of getting the Argentinean in to the space he requires.
Erik Lamela Shifts to the right
His first way of doing it may have been more by the design of the game plan than deliberately scheming for Erik Lamela.
Pochettino switched to a deep lying 4-4-2 formation for our visit to the Emirates and played Lamela on the right side of our midfield quartet.
With him now in a more fixed position from the right side, it allowed him to pick and choose when he drifted inside.
He was in to teh space behind the Arsenal midfield when he fluffed a pass to Emmanuel Adebayor; whilst he also had Nacer Chadli free through the middle.
He was then involved in setting up our opener for Nacer Chadli, as he took the ball from Christian Eriksen’s tackle on Mathieu Flamini. He moved in to the centre once more when he saw Kaboul, Adebayor and Eriksen go to press.
What putting Lamela out on the right did was take him away from the central congestion and allowed him to come inside when the space appeared. In this game it was from Arsenal being lured out by us sitting so deep.
In our next Premier League match with Southampton, Mauricio Pochettino kept Erik Lamela out on the right, but removed a player inside him to again give him this space.
Ryan Mason was deployed to the left of a midfield three, to leave Lamela room inside on his flank.
Erik Lamela filled this space on the right, as we can see from his passes received, which allowed him to try and get the ball and run from between the lines.
Here we can see how he is free to take the ball from Christian Eriksen, as he motors in to the space between the lines from the right and takes a shot.
Whilst Lamela didn’t massively influence the game, moving him out to a more structured right-sided role did give him increased room to work in. The 4-3-3 set up with Ryan Mason in an offset left sided role opened up the area inside of him so he could cut in to it.
Whether Mauricio Pochettino continues this set up with Lamela as a right-sided forward in a 4-3-3, or if he reverts back to the trio of interchanging advanced midfielders will be one to keep an eye on.
It may give Lamela more structure to his play, as he enjoyed playing as a right-sided forward for Roma. It may also take him away from teams that pack the middle, which he was often getting caught up in as he sought to switch positions with Eriksen and Chadli.
We may have to wait beyond the Man City game this weekend to find out if this shift to the right of a 4-3-3 is a more permanent one. The reason being that there is a good chance Mauricio Pochettino will revert to the 4-4-2 system we saw against Arsenal for our trip to the Etihad. Lamela shoud line up as the right-sided midfielder though.
Erik Lamela has shown glimpses of great potential, but is still 12 months behind our other signings from last summer in integrating himself in to the speed of the Premier League. Our new coach is trying different things to tactically get him on the ball where he can get in to space and run at defences. A more structured right-sided role is one way of doing it.