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Tottenham Hotspur Season in Review 2018-19: Attacking Midfielders

Each member of Spurs’ midfield attack developed into their own role over the course of the season

Tottenham Hotspur v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

This season, Tottenham’s forwards made quite a name for themselves: in Harry Kane’s absence, Lucas Moura, Heung-min Son, and Fernando Llorente each stepped up to contribute match-winning goals, sensational strikes, and career-high performances. The attacking midfield who support them, however, have gotten comparatively little attention and credit. Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, and Erik Lamela each added new, complicated chapters to their history at Tottenham during a season where they adapted to tactics that changed often to accommodate injuries and the strain of participation in several overlapping competitions. Of the three, Eriksen played by far the most minutes for Spurs, with 3,388 according to Dele played a respectable 2,462 in a season that saw him out with injuries for a decent portion of the spring, while Erik Lamela featured for only 1,306 minutes, many of them as a substitute.

Attacking midfielder stats, 2018-19 all competitions

Statistic Eriksen Dele Lamela
Statistic Eriksen Dele Lamela
Goals scored 10 7 6
Assists 16 6 4
Minutes played 3685 2462 1306
Goals/90 0.24 0.26 0.41
Assists/90 0.39 0.22 0.28

The combination of Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli was certainly the first-choice option in the attacking midfield, often as part of the larger DESK (Dele-Eriksen-Son-Kane) offensive. Those two were selected for every big game for which they were available, showing just how critical they are to Tottenham’s strategy. This season also saw an interesting rotation of roles, so that each of the attacking midfield corps was asked to fill in for roles more attacking and more defending than their preferred positions, as well as play alongside forwards like Lucas Moura and Heung-min Son as their counterparts in the midfield. Below, I recorded the team’s performances in games where each player started. This isn’t a relevant analytic to describe the impact of the individual players, but rather a novel way of reviewing the season.

Team performances by starting AM

Statistic Season total Eriksen starts Dele starts Lamela Starts Eriksen-Dele start
Statistic Season total Eriksen starts Dele starts Lamela Starts Eriksen-Dele start
# of Games 57 44 34 14 28
Team goals scored 103 80 63 18 49
Team goals conceded 63 52 37 18 35
Team goal difference 40 28 26 0 14
Points (simulated for cup ties) 104 76 63 23 47
Mean team goals scored 1.81 1.82 1.85 1.29 1.75
Mean team goals conceded 1.11 1.18 1.09 1.29 1.25
Mean team GD 0.70 0.64 0.76 0.00 0.50
Mean points 1.82 1.73 1.85 1.64 1.68

Christian Eriksen

Tottenham Hotspur v Everton FC - Premier League Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Christian Eriksen will be in high demand this summer, and that’s a scary prospect for Tottenham. His uniquely brilliant play is a fundamental part of the team’s best performances. This season, he continued to show his skill as a playmaker, receiving the ball around midfield and progressing it, either himself or through passes and movement, before finding incisive passes to Spurs’ forwards that unlocked defenses and created impressive goalscoring opportunities. Look no further than his 12 Premier League assists this season, third-best in the league, for evidence that Eriksen continues to be a key part of Tottenham’s offensive game. Some other ways of describing Eriksen’s playmaking qualities: WhoScored records him making 2.1 key passes per 90 in the Premier League this season, eighth best of every player in the league, and among top-six teams, only David Silva, Willian, and Eden Hazard made more. In the Champions League, Eriksen was equally excellent: only Kylian Mbappe and Jordi Alba beat Eriksen’s four assists. Moving away from numbers, though, Eriksen looked consistent and elite in yet another season. He started every single game for Spurs since January 30, and during that time, his performances fluctuated from reassuringly competent to impressively brilliant. He rarely makes a serious mistake. He scored some crucial goals for Spurs this year, including a late winner against Inter to keep Spurs’ Champions League dreams alive. The “Welcome to Real Madrid” videos have been circulating for a while, and although the dreaded day that their prophecy comes true seems nearer now than ever, for now Spurs fans can just take pride in our Danish wunderkind’s mastery.

Rating: 4.5 Chirpys

Dele Alli

AFC Bournemouth v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images

Eric Dier’s best friend just keeps getting better. When Dele debuted for Spurs in August 2015, he was nineteen, and quickly earned a reputation as a young superstar. He has played four full seasons for Spurs since then, and in that time, he has evolved his game to become far more than a cheeky youngster. Now 23, Dele retains his youthful imagination and charming penchant for shithousery while possessing ever-greater skills in the midfield arts, which require defensive ability, expansive vision, and selflessness in key moments. He has become a team player, a transition that shows remarkable maturity for somebody whose career has all the potential for contemporary football superstardom. In December, Owen Brown wrote for StatsBomb that “Dele has become a pressing monster. . . England’s most important player through the next decade.” To visualize this, see Statsbomb’s comparison of Dele to Giovani Lo Celso (porque no los dos, Daniel Levy?) from earlier this season:

Comparison of Dele Alli’s statistical radar to Giovani Lo Celso
Credit: StatsBomb

Those pressures and pressure regain statistics are massive. He kept it up for the remainder of the season, a fact confirmed his presence in the best pressure regain players of the Premier League this year:

List of Premier League players with most pressure regains per 90
Source: StatsBomb

With nearly 5 pressure regains per 90, Dele is at the heart of Spurs’ midfield quality. Whereas Christian Eriksen creates opportunities going forward, Dele gets the ball back to enable those opportunities. This isn’t all he does, though: even as he has trained different aspects of his game, Dele remains a formidable offensive threat and a strong morale booster for the team. Nowhere was this more on display than in the second leg of the Champions League semi against Ajax. In a delightfully un-Spursy way, Dele never gives up, even when Spurs’ chances seem slim, and he led the charge against Ajax, first with a great run and acrobatic finish that nearly put Spurs back into it, then with a sharp dribble that led to Moura’s first goal, and finally with an unforgettable, inch-perfect pass to assist his third. This season was not his most spectacular, to be sure. He was out for most of September and October with a hamstring injury, then for the end of January through early March with a strain, and when he did play, occasionally he seemed lackluster or a little dull. For a twenty-three year old with as much all-around quality as he has, though, the sky’s the limit.

Rating: 4 Chirpys

Erik Lamela

Chelsea FC v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

We all love Erik Lamela. Both myself and Sean Cahill wrote adulatory essays just weeks apart last November (Sean’s was better), and at that time, Erik was making a name for himself as a super sub. Though Lamela’s redemption at Spurs began before this season, this fall was when he truly announced himself as a devoted and valuable squad player, filling in where necessary and making an impact whenever possible. Though Lamela played just over half as many minutes as Dele, he scored six goals and notched four assists, a formidable contribution compared to Dele’s seven and six. Probably his most impressive was this finish against Liverpool, a goal that Spurs will hope somebody can replicate this weekend. Erik has reached a point of consistency in his career and his role at Spurs, and that’s not a bad thing for somebody whose arrival at the club was turbulent, to say the least. He’ll remain the scrappy, creative player that he has become, and we’ll always love him for that.

Rating: 3 Chirpys