Erik Lamela made his first Premier League start in eight months as Tottenham emerged as narrow victors against West Ham at Upton Park and appears set to play a far more influential role under new boss Mauricio Pochettino this season than in a troubled debut campaign in English football.
The 22-year-old showed flashes of quality without directly testing Adrian in the West Ham goal or threatening to provide the inspiration for a breakthrough and was replaced by Lewis Holtby on 61 minutes.
|PERFORMANCE AGAINST WEST HAM|
After so long out of the Tottenham team, Lamela's first game back was always going to be subjected to heightened scrutiny. His performance was neither a triumph nor a disaster but rather indicative of a hugely talented young player adjusting to a new footballing culture, a new system and a new manager.
West Ham were hardly ideal opponents. Sam Allardyce set out to deny Tottenham's creators space in between the lines and his players carried out his instructions almost flawlessly all afternoon.
Drifting in from the right flank, Lamela managed to execute some deft flicks and initiate some quick passing interchanges, as well as driving with the ball at times, but West Ham's defenders ensured that these moments were invariably in areas where he could not hurt them.
In the wake of Kyle Naughton's dismissal on 29 minutes, Pochettino switched Lamela to the left and moved Aaron Lennon to the right to provide some natural width for his 10-man team.
The 22-year-old showed little willingness to try and commit Joey O'Brien or Guy Demel in one-on-one situations, however, instead drifting into the middle where he was able to use his pace to lead several dangerous but ultimately fruitless Tottenham counterattacks.
James Collins's red card resulted in the game becoming more stretched, giving Lamela more space to exploit with his drives upfield, but the Argentine appeared to tire and was replaced by Holtby just past the hour-mark.
Lamela was at his most effective whenever he was able to find space to drive forward with the ball and commit opponents. In the 14th minute, with West Ham beginning their aerial bombardment and Tottenham under pressure, he surged upfield and beat two opposition players before being brought down by Cheikhou Kouyate to win a free kick for his team.
Unfortunately for Lamela and Tottenham, however, West Ham's commitment to their defensive gameplan not only ensured that such opportunities were rare but also that they were able to execute a tactical foul whenever they did arise.
No individual moment stands out but Lamela's inability to exert a decisive influence as the match became more stretched in the wake of Collins's dismissal is particularly galling.
The Argentine led a couple of swift counterattacks which came to nothing immediately prior to his substitution but never troubled Adrian or provided any of his team-mates with a clear chance.
Given his relative lack of football over the past year and inexperience of Premier League football, such a performance was unsurprising but both Lamela and those around him know that he has much more to give over the coming weeks and months.
|WILL HE FEATURE AGAINST QPR?|
Tottenham's involvement in the much-maligned Europa League makes predicting their lineups for Premier League matches particularly problematic. Whether Lamela keeps his place for Sunday's clash with QPR at White Hart Lane, for example, could depend on whether he features heavily away to Limassol on Thursday.
His presence in the starting XI for Saturday's season-opener suggests that the 22-year-old is at the forefront of Pochettino's thoughts for this season. That said, Andros Townsend made a compelling statement of his own by showing greater urgency with the ball and carrying a more potent goal threat when he replaced Lennon on the right flank.
After the match Pochettino warned his players to expect significant squad rotation as he bids for success in the Premier League and in Europe. "We need to manage [the squad] because we have a lot of games," he told reporters. "It’s possible that we play a different starting XI in the next game because of that.
"We will try to keep everyone happy. We have a lot of games and they will all be important players."