Another match-winning goal followed by the same celebration – wheeling away before pointing at the name on the back of the Lilywhite shirt. At the London Stadium on Saturday, Spurs fans were treated to another reminder of exactly who Erik Lamela is.
Getting the Argentine to regularly produce his best form has been one of the more posing challenges for compatriot Mauricio Pochettino. It’s a task which has been made all the more difficult by personal setbacks, as well as surgery on both hips. This season, however, something has clicked. In eight appearances in all competitions, Lamela has been directly involved in eight goals, scoring five of them and assisting a further three.
The 26-year-old has been remarkably clinical. He has scored just one less goal than Romelu Lukaku, but has taken seven fewer shots, and has attempted one less shot on target than Jamie Vardy, yet has the same goal tally.
One of the few players not to have gone to the World Cup, and at a time when Tottenham are lacking sharpness, his energy is badly needed. That is how he has been able to quieten his critics in recent weeks, who have been sceptical ever since his then-club record £30million move from Roma in 2013. The fee was a significant chunk of the ‘Gareth Bale money’ and therefore had to be spent wisely.
It may have taken five years, but that investment is beginning to pay off. There have been glimpses of what he can do previously – his famous rabona in the Europa League against Asteras, his clincher in the 3-0 win over Manchester United at White Hart Lane in 2016 – but club-record forwards need to repeat those exploits regularly.
Much of the battle has been psychological, and it is here that Pochettino has played a master stroke. As summer dawned and Lamela entered the final year of his contract, a new and improved four-year deal was laid on the table – an unmistakable message that the Spurs hierarchy still had faith in him.
After the 1-0 victory over West Ham, Pochettino declared Lamela’s resurgence could be attributed to the coaching staff’s perseverance.
“He had a lot of injuries over his five and a half years,” he explained.
“The season before last was tough for him. We showed patience, belief, we cared about the player. That is the most important thing.”
Hip injuries can be notoriously debilitating and difficult to return from. It took Lamela a whole 13 months to come back, all the while combatting homesickness and dealing with a life-changing accident suffered by his brother.
When he finally reappeared for 13 minutes of an away defeat to Leicester in November 2017, he already looked a different player. More recently, he has benefited from Harry Kane often playing a slightly deeper role and has used the extra space created by Lucas Moura on the other side of the pitch to make runs into the box that few opponents seem to see coming.
In an attempt to minimise the strain on his body, he is now focusing on matches and does not always train.
Tottenham’s season so far has been a strange one. They have not yet looked at their best, yet if they had held onto the lead at Watford, they would be top of the table by a point.
Pochettino’s men have a tendency to pick up later on in the campaign. Many feel that slow starts are what has cost them the title in the last three years. And so, amidst their best start to a Premier League season points-wise, Lamela’s niggly tenacity has epitomised a side to Spurs we have not always seen – a team willing to scrap, to grind out results, and to keep pace with their title rivals without ever really hitting top gear.
Sooner or later, other teams must wise up to the threat Lamela poses. For now, Tottenham continue to reap the rewards.
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