Cartilage Free Captain is reviewing the players of Tottenham Hotspur and how they performed in the 2016-17 Premier League season. Here’s the review of Argentine winger Erik Lamela.
Appearances: 14 (9 EPL, 3 UCL, 1 League Cup)
What went right?
Ummm.... He scored a goal in our opening draw against Everton?
More seriously, basically everything that could go wrong for Lamela did go wrong this season. In the preseason, I picked him to be our breakout player this season. He took major strides last season and I figured that if Spurs were going to improve this year, it was going to be because one of three players significantly improved: Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, or Lamela.
Christian and Dele both arguably made huge jumps this year with both now on the brink of being truly world-class in their respective roles. Lamela, however, struggled to hit similar levels when he did play and then spent most of the year in the fitness room trying to deal with various and mostly mysterious injury issues. (Our theory in the writer’s room is that it may be a degenerating hip issue in which case... he dead.)
The one thing that may favor Lamela from this season is that the fourth and fifth attacking midfield options for Spurs, Moussa Sissoko and Josh Onomah massively underwhelmed this season. Sissoko looked awful and is likely to leave the club. The window for Onomah to break into the first team may also have shut. So if Lamela can come back healthy and stay healthy, he may still have a place in the side next season.
What went wrong?
There are four big things that went wrong.
First, Lamela never got to play in a Spurs team that could consistently progress the ball into the attacking third. He never played with last season’s best XI, which significantly included a Dierbele midfield, and he never got a shot at the 3-5-2 system Poche shifted to in late December. For an attacking player who thrives on getting the ball in wide areas of the field in the attacking third and running at the defense before playing simple little through balls to set up scoring chances, the lack of service proved to be a problem.
Second, Lamela was injured. The club knew he had a history of fitness issues when they signed him so this shouldn’t be a shock, but the severity of his fitness problems—he has now played only 85 league matches out of a possible 152 in the four seasons since he moved to Spurs. That’s almost certainly an unacceptable pattern—you can’t have a former club-record signing missing nearly half of all league matches in his first four seasons with the club.
Third, Son Heung-Min scored 21 goals in 47 appearances. Given that he was Lamela’s primary backup last season and his main competition for that wide attacking/linking player in Poche’s preferred 4-2-3-1, that’s bad news for Lamela. If he is fit again in August, he will almost certainly begin the season as a solid backup to Sonny.
Fourth, Spurs discovered the 3-5-2 as a solid alternative system to use when Mousa Dembele is injured. The trouble for Lamela is that while Eriksen and Son Heung-Min, the other players who often feature as wide attackers, can both slot into that shape either as a midfielder in Eriksen’s case or a striker in Son’s, there is not an obvious role in the 3-5-2 for Lamela.
One possibility is that the system could become more of a pure 3-4-3 rather than the tweener 3-5-2/3-4-3 that it was with Eriksen and Dele as the attackers supporting Kane. If the team went this route, then we might see Lamela partner Wanyama in midfield flanked by the wingbacks with Lamela and Dele playing behind Kane. Functionally this would likely become a 3-3-3-1 as Eriksen would almost certainly push forward. If that were to happen, the team would be extremely attack-focused and would rely on the range and power of Wanyama to control the midfield—which he may be good enough to do, of course. Aside from that, however, it’s hard to see a role for Lamela in that system unless my dream of Erik Lamela: Wingback ever materializes.
Well, first he has to get healthy. If he really does have some sort of chronic or degenerating injury, that may never happen. In which case I guess we’ll always have 2015-16 Coco to remember.
If he does get healthy, then the first order of business is reclaiming his spot in the first XI. The second order may be figuring out ways of rounding out his game such that he still has a role in the team even if we aren’t playing 4-2-3-1.