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For a while, it seemed like Tottenham Hotspur fans may never see Érik Lamela in a Spurs shirt again.
The Argentine was the forgotten man of North London after spending more than a year out due to a hip injury, but he returned against Leicester City in November, coming on a substitute in a 2-1 loss.
And with just his third touch Lamela smartly played the ball through to Harry Kane who turned and hammered it high into the roof of the net. It was Spurs’ only goal of the game.
“I feel good to be back on the pitch but disappointed for the result,' said the 25-year-old Argentina winger after the match. “Of course, I can get much better. I am still not 100 per cent but I am good enough to play and I am happy to be back.
“It has been crazy, probably the worst time of my life. I really wanted to play but it took too long, my injury.
“The worst part was when I had two surgeries in one month and a half and, of course, in really bad times you always think the worst.”
That assist was just a glimpse of what the Argentine can do when he’s fully fit.
It’s easy to forget what an exciting talent he was and it’s a sad thought that it crossed his mind that he may never play again.
When Lamela arrived from Roma, aged 21 back in 2013, it was for a then eye-watering £30million. He had made 67 appearances in all competitions for Roma, scoring 21 goals for the Italian side. An impressive return.
But to put his fee into context, Christian Eriksen joined for just £11.5million that same summer.
After a relatively slow start – like most of those players bought with the Gareth Bale money – Lamela hit the headlines in October 2014 with an exquisite rabona goal against Astera Tripolis.
But it wasn't until the 2015/16 season that he became a consistent threat. He was involved in 20 goals all competitions, grabbing an impressive nine assists in the process.
He started the 2016/17 campaign well, too, and had a goal and three assists in nine starts before his injury.
Lamela passed a big milestone in his return on Sunday, playing 90 minutes in Tottenham’s 3-0 FA Cup win over AFC Wimbledon at Wembley alongside fellow long-term absentee Victor Wanyama.
“I think it's important for him and Victor to feel 90 minutes in their legs,” Mauricio Pochettino said at full-time.
“It's so important. For Erik and Victor it's so important to feel like you can cope with 90 minutes. That is so important psychologically in this aspect.”
And after that game, Tottenham’s current main man Kane spoke about winning trophies with Spurs.
“I’ve always said I want to keep progressing and keep getting better,” said the England striker.
“We want to start winning trophies so that’s the aim. As long as the club keeps doing that then I’m happy here.”
Spurs may have finished second without Lamela last year, but with him fit, they could finally win something under Pochettino.
While he may only have two assists and no goals in his nine league appearances this term, he’s showing his quality in his limited sample size of time.
In terms of expected goals (xG) per 90, only Kane and Fernando Llorente are above the 25-year-old.
The Englishman is at an impressive 0.82 and the Spaniard is at 0.51. The Argentine is at 0.48, which is way above fellow attacker Son Heung-Min, who’s in fourth at 0.34.
Lamela certainly isn’t afraid to shoot, averaging 2.59 shots per 90 so far this season, but in terms of creating chances, he’s also up there with Spurs’ best.
With regards to expected assists (xA) per 90, Lamela is leading the way in the Premier League for Spurs, with 0.37, which is above the likes of Son and Eriksen, who are both at 0.3.
That xA is just below the much-heralded Cesc Fàbregas (0.38), equal to Kevin De Bruyne, and just above David Silva (0.36). It's not bad company to be in.
Looking at key passes per 90, which is defined as passes that led to a shot, he also has made the most out of any Tottenham player with 2.59.
So if he can maintain that level of creativity over 90 minutes, Lamela could be that man to take Tottenham to the next level.
The important thing for Spurs is to ease him back slowly and make sure he doesn’t suffer any setbacks – it may be why Tottenham fans don't see the best of him in the remaining months this campaign.
But with a full pre-season next summer, Tottenham will hope Lamela will be key as they aim to compete for the trophies this talented side are capable of winning.