Cartilage Free Captain is once again reviewing each of Spurs' first team players and evaluating their 2015-16 season. The series continues today with Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Erik Lamela.
Goals: 11 (5 league, 6 Europa)
Cards: 10 (10 yellow, 0 red)
Hair Gel: 5 liters
What Went Right?
This was the season where everything started to click for Erik Lamela. It's a minor miracle, considering that Lamela was very nearly loaned out to Marseille this summer and was only kept because the Saido Berahino transfer fell through. You could watch Lamela's understanding of Pochettino's tactical system and his growth as a player improve with each passing week until he not only established himself as a regular starter for Spurs, but became an integral cog in Tottenham's offense.
Lamela transformed himself from the flashy, offense-first midfielder that we saw at Roma to a high-intensity, defensively solid, midfield pressing terrier this season, and he embraced the role fully. Watching Lamela harry opposition midfielders and defenders with the ball was amazing. He was at times relentless, going after the ball with sometimes reckless abandon, and finding open teammates to quickly start counter-attacks. Perhaps only Mousa Dembele more perfectly encapsulated the Pochettino pressing midfielder this season.
Part of that transformation also meant Lamela was perfectly willing to look for open teammates in the attacking channels and making that perfectly-weighted through ball or chipped lob. I don't know how many hockey assists he had (I'm not sure if anyone actually tracks those) but I know he had a bunch this season.
All that and he only scored five league goals.
There's probably nothing Erik Lamela can do to justify the fact that was bought for €30m from Roma three seasons ago. He's still probably not a €30m midfielder, at least not in the scoring-lots-of-goals sense. But this season he's certainly closed that gap, becoming almost the perfect Pochettino Midfielder™, and that's saying something.
What Went Wrong?
One of the consequences of the new Stuck-In Erik Lamela (with Kung-Fu Grip!) is that at times that edgy streak that he played with crossed the line. It's not that Lamela played dirty (though Cesc Fabregas might disagree after Lamela trod on his foot during the Battle of the Bridge), but Lamela's tenacious press and defending on occasion led to some dumb tackles and some really cheap cards. That's kind of part and parcel with that style of play – if you press that ferociously you should expect to pick up a few cheap yellows – and it's worth noting that in the ten cards he picked up in this year's campaign, not a single one of them was red.
The other knock on Lamela is that, despite scoring ten goals this season, it still feels like he should be banging them in more than he is. I know that's no longer his role, and the role he IS playing is a pretty darned good one, you still get the sense that he's not quite fulfilling his potential.
Lamela has been a good case study on why you shouldn't give on players too early. He went from injured, adjusting, and out-of-his-depth to middling, capable, and this season to exceptional and assured. He can still grow, though, and he'll get the opportunity to test himself against Champions League quality opposition next season.
Lamela's learned how to press and how to pass, but his value to Spurs will really skyrocket if he starts shooting more often. There's a 15-20 goal scorer in there somewhere; we saw it at Roma. If he continues to work the way he did this season, there's no reason why we can't expect even more development from our faux-hawked, baby-faced Argentine midfielder next year.