Why Erik Lamela's Slow Adaptation Is Harming Tottenham Hotspur's Midfield

Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterNovember 4, 2013

Ten games into the new Premier League season, Tottenham Hotspur sit fourth in the table, level on points with second-placed Chelsea.

Andre Villas-Boas' troops are averaging two points per game, have conceded just five goals and average the highest number of shots per game (17.5) so far. Things are looking rosy, right?

Not if you're a Tottenham fan, and despite the impressive statistics racked up for the season so far, the grumbles around White Hart Lane heard after the 1-0 win over Hull City are semi-understandable.

"We didn't have the support we should have done. There was much anxiety from the stands, the players had to do it alone," Andre Villas-Boas told the BBC after the victory at White Hart Lane.

The former Porto boss told reporters that his side struggled to break down a five-man defence on the day, and that resolute defending from the Tigers halted his side's efficiency in the final third.

But the truth is Spurs have been inefficient all season, from Selhurst Park on the opening day to Goodison Park this weekend. Something needs to change for AVB, as his team simply appear to be suffering from the loss of Gareth Bale—despite sitting pretty near the top of the table.

The penetration and aggressive dribbling that Bale provided toward the end of his tenure at White Hart Lane were integral to forcing this side between thirds on the pitch. Spurs have remodeled without him but never truly intended to evolve from the style of play adopted whilst he was in the XI.

They intended to continue it...with wunderkind Erik Lamela replacing him man-for-man.

There are many words for the Argentine's slow start to life in North London. "Disappointing" doesn't feel strong enough; "woeful" is perhaps harsh.

Either way, the "pre-Lamela and post-Bale" time zone everyone expected should have been completed by now, with the former Roma star taking the Premier League by storm.

Fans who lacked the chance to watch him destroy Serie A defences question AVB's judgement on this signing given his lofty price tag, as in each of the few chances he has been given, he has utterly underwhelmed.

CARDIFF, WALES - SEPTEMBER 22:  Paulinho of Tottenham celebrates after scoring the winning goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Cardiff City and Tottenham Hotspur at Cardiff City Stadium on September 22, 2013 in Cardiff, Wales.  (Photo by
Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

His acclimation is taking longer than the Spurs' hierarchy had planned for, and his sluggish start is now on the verge of harming a side in a state of flux. Who honestly expected him to convert that penalty against Hull?

Tottenham boast one of the most physical midfields in Europe. They're getting by on raw power via Mousa Dembele, Sandro, Etienne Capoue and Paulinho. Everton were engulfed on Sunday, prompting Roberto Martinez to throw on Ross Barkley, leveling the BMI contest.

That solidity is grinding out 1-0 wins and keeping clean sheets, but it's limiting a potentially potent Spurs side going forward.

Christian Eriksen has brought his consistency issues from the Netherlands to England, Lewis Holtby flits between good and poor, and Gylfi Sigurdsson is stuck out on the left. There is no drive from the centre of midfield, no link to Roberto Soldado, and the striker isn't aggressive enough to craft opportunities for himself.

Spurs are slowing things down in the final third and allowing the opposition to draft numbers back and defend. They would routinely do this last season only for Bale to unlock the door, but as it stands—without a silky playmaker in a central position—they're hitting a brick wall.

Andros Townsend has been a revelation for the club on the right-hand side, but he's also easier to nullify whilst playing on the wings; a combination of Gareth Barry and Leighton Baines did it well on Sunday, while Antonio Luna, Fabian Delph and Gabby Agbonlahor bottled him up well for large chunks of the win at Villa Park.

You'd think that, with double or triple-marking in place on a wide player, there'd be gaping holes elsewhere, but again Spurs resort to moving to ball too slowly while transitioning from midfield.

When he's ready, Lamela can spark this attack into life. He can unlock the door, provide penetration, spot holes, exploit space and beat markers. He may detract from the muscular outlook of Spurs' current midfield, but he will lead them to convincing victories that don't rely on a Soldado penalty conversion.

The sooner the better, Erik, as it's becoming a bit of an issue now.