Wednesday 16 January 2019

Patience paying off for Lamela

Spurs winger has only started one game this season but he is still making a big impression

By his own admission, Erik Lamela is enjoying his football more this season. Photo: Getty
By his own admission, Erik Lamela is enjoying his football more this season. Photo: Getty

David Hytner

Erik Lamela has started only one Premier League game this season yet he has scored three goals in the competition and the statistic raises an obvious question: is he happy with the amount of time he is getting on the field?

The Tottenham winger, who has also scored in the Champions League against Barcelona and the Carabao Cup against Watford, is in arguably the form of his life, although he does not see it that way. He considers the question with his usual calm and he goes hard in one direction. "I am very satisfied and very happy," Lamela says. "I have no reason to complain. I am playing as much as I expected to and I am happy with that. It is just the beginning of the season."

Lamela is not a guy to rock the boat by sounding off in the press but there is something deeper that underpins his attitude and eye-catching start to the season. By his own admission, he is enjoying his football more and he is drinking in every drop of it.

Lamela's new-found perspective is rooted in the 13-month injury lay-off that he endured from October 2016. He had doubts over whether he would get back to his best levels and, as somebody who cannot be without football, it was a dreadfully testing time. But Lamela told himself to remain focused, to work day by day and after feeling his way back towards form last season he has taken a palpable step up this time out, albeit, as he repeatedly points out, he has played only nine times in all competitions. He hopes to make it 10 in the showpiece fixture against Manchester City at Wembley tomorrow night.

"I think the big difference is that I'm enjoying things much more than I used to," Lamela says. "After all the time I spent off the pitch, wishing that I could play again, now I enjoy everything. I enjoy every single training session, and perhaps I enjoy things more because I'm in a different frame of mind. Perhaps, in the past, I was just going too fast and passing things by."

Lamela's single-mindedness has always been his greatest strength and he has poured himself into making the difference whenever called upon this season. On as a substitute against Liverpool in mid-September, he scored in stoppage time and almost inspired a smash-and-grab draw. He was Tottenham's best player in the Barcelona defeat, and again on his lone league start, against West Ham last Saturday, when he scored the only goal.

Lamela's increased cutting edge has not been the only thing to thrust him to prominence. He looks sharper, quicker to the ball, more willing to drive at opponents and get himself into dangerous areas. Meanwhile, he remains an aggressive hustler without the ball.

"I am feeling really well right now and I'm at the level where I wanted to be," Lamela says. "I don't think I am in the best form I've ever been in. I have started the season very well but you cannot get obsessed by the figures because it is still only the beginning. It is a question of taking it simply. I think there's more to come from me, although I don't like to get too far ahead of myself."

Lamela can see the broader picture when it comes to City. After Pep Guardiola joined the club as the manager, his first defeat came at White Hart Lane in October 2016 - when Spurs out-fought and out-thought them en route to a 2-0 win. Later in the season, the teams drew 2-2 at the Etihad in a game that City shaded.

Yet last season, Spurs saw City lengthen their stride. Guardiola's team beat them 4-1 at home and 3-1 at Wembley - the second result all but ensuring their coronation as champions. It feels as if the gap between the clubs is getting bigger and yet Tottenham would go above City with victory tomorrow - a remarkable detail given how they have flattered to deceive at times this season.

Spurs have repeatedly found a way to win on the domestic front and, with seven wins in nine games, they have made their best start to a Premier League campaign. But they have also flirted with crisis on more than one occasion, with Wednesday's 2-2 Champions League draw at PSV Eindhoven ushering the dark clouds back overhead. Even Mauricio Pochettino acknowledged that, with one point from an available nine in Europe, they were unlikely to qualify for the last 16.

"The Champions League matches have been defined by very small details that have changed everything," Lamela says. "We've not had much luck, although I'm not trying to find excuses. We've not managed to close down matches as we should have done at Inter Milan and Eindhoven.

"With City, we'll definitely try to close the gap on them. We start every season with victory in mind. They are a great, great team but this is a huge opportunity to get ahead of them. The good thing is we're playing locally, we'll have our people there supporting us and we're going to go for the win. We're going to try and stay on that streak of victories that we've been having in the Premier League."

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