Erik Lamela has been one of the Premier League’s most improved players in the last 18 months. From one of the famous flopped signings, the Argentina international has become a vital cog in Spurs’ attacking play. Initially criticised for almost every element of his play, the former Roma man is now a key member of the Spurs’ aggressive pressing and a talented outlet down the right flank of their attack.
Lamela, though, has not appeared for Spurs since an EFL Cup defeat to Liverpool on 25th October, when he featured as a substitute replacing Tom Carroll in the 61st minute. The loss at Anfield was followed by a poor run of results that was only ended with a 5-0 thrashing of Swansea in early December.
Poch says Lamela unavailable, travelled to Argentina for family reasons: "He has a problem with his brother, we hope it's not too bad" #thfc
— Paul Brown (@pbsportswriter) December 6, 2016
Initially caused by an injury, rumours have circulated that Lamela has been unavailable for a number of reasons. Having flown back to Argentina in December to see his brother, Spurs’ winger has since had to calm a Twitter furore that his prolonged absence was because of the death of his dog. Posting on Instagram a few weeks ago, Lamela claimed that it is his match fitness keeping him out of action.
Aclaró para la gente que se preocupa por mí que estoy en Roma curándome por una lesión y no por problemas extra futbolísticos. Gracias a todos por el aliento día a día ! Espero volver pronto a las canchas ???????? Just to be clear, I am in Rome at the moment recovering for an injury and not for any other thing that is not to do with football! Missing White hart Lane every minute! Thanks to all of those who encourage me day by day! ????????
An amalgamation of issues seem to have contributed to Lamela missing the majority of the season. When he will be back is still unknown, but Spurs are suffering for his unavailability. While currently sitting second in the table, a lack of options in the final third have still meant Lamela is sorely missed. Moussa Sissoko is yet to impress and Georges-Kevin Nkoudou has only played 36 Premier League minutes this season.
Lamela’s 2.2 key passes per game, nine assists and five goals from the 2015/16 Premier League season made him one of Spurs’ key players. Only Christian Eriksen made more assists or key passes per game than the Argentine and the Lilywhites have no direct replacement in their squad. His pace and increasing power made him an additional option to retain in the final third, particularly as he was becoming increasingly willing to run beyond Harry Kane. Had Lamela remained fit, however, Spurs may not have become so accustomed to the 3-4-2-1 that has reinvigorated their season.
Without Lamela, Spurs’ 4-2-3-1 which brought them such success last season is less effective. Son Heung-Min has had a good season himself, but he is not the same tyrant out of possession. Lamela made 2.4 tackles per game in the Premier League last season, Son has made only 0.3 per game this campaign. Spurs are pressing slightly less this time around as a team and Son is asked to play a different role, yet this still speaks volumes for what they offer Mauricio Pochettino. In an ideal world, Pochettino would be starting Lamela with Son as an impact substitute.
Until their thrashing of Stoke last weekend, Pochettino’s men were in a bit of a rut. Held to a 0-0 by Sunderland, squeaking past Middlesbrough 1-0 and then being fortunate to lose 2-0 away at Liverpool, they experienced another run of attacking difficulties. With so much creative pressure placed on the shoulders of the patchy Christian Eriksen, Spurs have, at times, been short of guile in the final third.
When Lamela got injured, Spurs were one point off the top of the league and second in their CL group. Well, good night.
— James Maw (@JamesMawFFT) February 24, 2017
Second in the Premier League – albeit with Manchester City having a game in hand – and in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, Spurs will not feel too disappointed about their season to date. Had Lamela remained available, however, affairs could be even better. Matches where they were held could have turned to victories and they may just have got that all-important away goal at Gent in the Europa League.
Lamela has been missed by Spurs and Pochettino. While he is unable to have a significant impact on this season, his absence has further confirmed his status as one of the most under-rated players in the league.