This was an evening when Erik Lamela seemed to come of age in a Tottenham Hotspur shirt. So often derided during a miserable debut season in England, the Argentina midfielder showed why many believe he is ready to kick-start his Spurs career under the guidance of Mauricio Pochettino.
Introduced after 71 minutes with his team facing an embarrassing Europa League defeat in Cyprus, Lamela won the game within nine minutes of coming on.
His first involvement was playing an inch-perfect ball for Roberto Soldado to volley home an equaliser. His second was to set up Harry Kane’s winner on a night when Tottenham toiled in 30C heat and on a dreadful pitch.
Lamela’s lack of confidence after his £30m move from Roma was obvious but he has looked a different man since Pochettino’s arrival. The 22-year-old left the Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium with a beaming smile on his face and in the forefront of his manager’s mind for Sunday’s game against Queen’s Park Rangers.
“It is never easy in the first season for a player from another country,” said Pochettino. “It is true that it was difficult for him. He was very disappointed about last season but the past is the past. We need him to look forward, believe in his skill and work very, very hard. With confidence and time he will show his value. We are confident with him that with hard work, like he has done in pre-season, that he can go far.”
Pochettino believes he is the right man to get the best out of Lamela, whose English has improved greatly over the summer. “Players like Erik and Andros [Townsend] have similar characteristics and they are free to move,” he said. “They have a position in the beginning because we need to be organised, but after that they are free.”
Before Lamela’s introduction, Tottenham, behind after 14 minutes, were on the verge of becoming the first English club to lose against a team from Cyprus.
AEL Limassol, beaten by Andre Villas-Boas’s Zenit Saint Petersburg in the Champions League third qualifying round earlier this month, had no intention of admiring their Premier League luminaries and went ahead through Adrian Sardinero.
The winners of the Europa League will qualify for next season’s Champions League group stage so Thursday nights now have an added incentive for Spurs. Pochettino feels he has a squad strong enough to cope with the demands of domestic and European football, but few took their opportunity to impress here.
Daniel Levy, the Tottenham chairman, is desperate for a return to Europe’s top table but, for long periods, it looked like Spurs would not even have Thursday nights on ITV 4 this season.
“It was a very tough game because of the conditions and the weather,” said Pochettino. “In the end 2-1 for us is an important result. It is true that in the first half we made a few mistakes but, in general, I am happy. I think we believed that it would be an easy game, but we knew when we watched their game against Zenit that they have a very good team.”
Lamela had been on the pitch less than two minutes when he drifted inside from the left and floated a ball to the back post for Soldado to emphatically volley in a leveller.
He was the provider again on 80 minutes when Kane thumped home the winner. Limassol could still mount a recovery in next week’s return leg but Tottenham, with Lamela in this kind of form, will be confident of finishing the job at White Hart Lane.
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