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Erik Lamela: Why Mauricio Pochettino's Loyalty Is Finally Paying off at Spurs

Jack Lusby@jacklusby_Featured ColumnistDecember 22, 2014

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 20:  Erik Lamela of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring his goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Burnley at White Hart Lane on December 20, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Clive Rose/Getty Images

A wonder goal in Tottenham Hotspur's 2-1 victory over Burnley on Saturday underlined Erik Lamela's growing importance and showed why manager Mauricio Pochettino has remained loyal to the midfielder this season.

After a stunning long-range strike from Ashley Barnes cancelled out Spurs striker Harry Kane's opener, Lamela cut in from the right wing to hit an unstoppable curled effort past Burnley's Tom Heaton.

This was Lamela's first Premier League goal, and it represents another step in the right direction for the Spurs man.

Fellow Argentinian Pochettino has nurtured Lamela's form this season, starting him in 14 of Spurs' 17 Premier League games so far.

The fruits of this are an increasingly improved form being displayed by the midfielder, and this sees Pochettino's loyalty finally paying off.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 24: Erik Lamela of Tottenham Hotspur is tackled by Pablo Zabaleta of Manchester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at Etihad Stadium on November 24, 2013 in Manchester
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Early Struggles and Pochettino Faith

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Brought to north London prior to the 2013/14 season in a BBC Sport-reported £25.7 million deal, Lamela's arrival was ostensibly organised to offset the loss of Gareth Bale, who joined Real Madrid two days later.

On Lamela's move, Ed Malyon of the Mirror described him as "a multi-faceted and very talented attacker with the potential to be world class."

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 19:  Gareth Bale of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates a goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland at White Hart Lane on May 19, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Ian Walton/Getty Images

Malyon continued: "Replacing Gareth Bale's goals from the wing is absolutely crucial for Spurs, but given last season's tally and his young age, Lamela should have no problem growing into that role."

Bale scored 21 goals in 33 games for Spurs in the 2012/13 season, while Lamela scored 15 in the same amount of appearances for Roma in Serie A.

However, as Malyon noted, Lamela would need to grow into Bale's role.

Understandably, Lamela struggled in his first season in the Premier League, making just nine appearances, scoring zero goals and making one assist.

This was, importantly, under managers Andre Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood, with an unstable structure affecting his adaptation. With Pochettino in charge, Lamela was expected to flourish.

In his first press conference since joining the club in May, Pochettino outlined how his knowledge of Lamela would aid the midfielder, per Jack Pitt-Brooke in the Independent:

We know Erik Lamela from Argentina and Italy. But he is still young and the Premier League is the most difficult league to play, the style, the language, and to adapt, but now after one year in Tottenham we think and we believe that Erik is ready to show his quality.

Although Pochettino's transition to English football, with Southampton, wasn't as tumultuous as his compatriot's, it is in the manager's faith and understanding that has seen Lamela improve this season.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23:  Erik Lamela of Spurs celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the UEFA Europa League group C match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Asteras Tripolis FC at White Hart Lane on October 23, 2014 in London, United Kingdom
Clive Rose/Getty Images

2014/15 Improvement

Perhaps most tellingly, Lamela's improvement can be seen in his creative game—with an ability to influence the game within a team context always more likely to precede regular goals.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Eden Hazard of Chelsea challenges Erik Lamela of Spurs during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on December 3, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Get
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Last season, Lamela averaged just 0.7 key passes per game, whereas in 2014/15 he has made an average of 1.6 per game.

This can be further evidenced by his four assists in 17 league games. This is an assist every 4.25 games, as opposed to one every nine last season.

Malyon further described Lamela, suggesting "his direct running game from the wing is more akin to Cristiano Ronaldo."

This season, Lamela's rate of 2.5 dribbles per league game dwarfs last season's one per game.

Furthermore, an astonishing rabona goal in Spurs' 5-1 Europa League victory over Asteras Tripolis outlined Lamela's devastating flair.

Although most of Lamela's best performances this season have come in Europe, his most impressive display came against Burnley on Saturday, with his goal well-deserved.

This goal, and Lamela's performance, capped a shift in progress this season, and the London Evening Standard's Tom Collomosse described this display as "full of menace, skill and verve."

Speaking of menace, a series of petulant swings of the elbow in Spurs' 2-1 December victory away to Swansea City served to blot his improvements in form, but, to spin a positive on the situation, Lamela's increased physicality shows further acclimatisation to a notoriously brutish league.

Gerry Cox of the Telegraph recently wrote that Lamela "looks too lightweight for this league and appears to lack the appetite or application that home-grown team-mates such as Ryan Mason, Harry Kane and Nabil Bentaleb show."

SWANSEA, WALES - DECEMBER 14:  Spurs player Erik Lamela (l) challenges Swansea player Jefferson Montero during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Tottenham Hotspur at Liberty Stadium on December 14, 2014 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo
Stu Forster/Getty Images

On the contrary, however, Lamela has made an average of 2.1 tackles per game in the league this season, making him Spurs' seventh most successful defensive player.

Furthermore, this is the most number of tackles made by any of Spurs' attacking players.

These developments show how Lamela is slowly adapting to the league under Pochettino's guidance and perseverance.

But the midfielder still represents a work in progress.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 26:  Alan Pardew manager of Newcastle United controls a ball as Erik Lamela of Spurs speaks with Fabricio Coloccini of Newcastle United next to Mauricio Pochettino, manager of Spurs during the Barclays Premier League match betwee
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Work in Progress

After the Burnley victory, Pochettino described Lamela's goal as "important for the player," per Bleacher Report's Thomas Cooper.

Realistically, the manager continued: "We need to understand that Erik is still young, he has a big talent and it was difficult in his first season in England."

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 20:  Erik Lamela of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring his goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Burnley at White Hart Lane on December 20, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/G
Clive Rose/Getty Images

"I think today was great for him because he needs to build his confidence. To be more strong. When we saw the performance from today, I think he is happy because he is in a very good process," Pochettino concluded.

This White Hart Lane winner represents another step in Lamela's transition to a demanding league.

In Pochettino, as evidenced by his encouraging realism, Lamela has a manager who is perfectly suited to aiding his development in the Premier League.

The midfielder should continue this progress at Spurs under the careful management of his countryman.

Erik Lamela still looks far from his 15-goal-a-season Serie A incarnation, but at just 22 years old, and with the flashes of brilliance shown so far in the Premier League, the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder is primed to vindicate Mauricio Pochettino's loyalty and become one of his key players.

Statistics via WhoScored.com.