In Praise of Tottenham’s wings

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Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Dom Le Roy

After an inspiring result on Saturday, it is easy to once again turn to Tottenham’s usual stars; Kane and Alli and Vertonghen all had decent games, Dembele came on and changed the game in central midfield, and Alderweireld came back into the first team with relieving assuredness. Beyond this spine, however, what brings warmth to the heart is the performances of Spurs’ wingers, whose impact, while somewhat understated is certainly visible.

Erik Lamela provided a brilliant injection of energy on his introduction, and since his return last season he has consistently changed games as a substitute, taking on players, scrapping for balls and creating for those around him. He may lack the finesse in the final third required to make him a consistent starter – as demonstrated by a couple of missed chances in the dying stages of Saturday’s game – but as a substitute, he is energetic, adaptable and an excellent dribbler of the ball. Take his assist for Harry Kane’s goal for example, he ran practically from the halfway line, drew four players to him and slipped the ball into Kane, demonstrative of this exact quality that makes at the very least an effective asset to the squad.

Lucas Moura too, who drew some understandable criticism for two or three missed opportunities (one of them excruciating) but seemed for most of the game the best player on the pitch. His movement on and off the ball in support of Harry Kane was pleasing, and again, though at the early stage he seems to lack the goalscoring instincts to truly make him a success at Tottenham, his fine goal bodes well for his development, and the smattering of substitute and FA cup appearances last season and the strong start to this one is very promising. I get the feeling we have yet to see his best, and while there is obvious room for improvement, he fits into that sector of Tottenham players who are genuinely exciting (if not frustrating) to watch. Pochettino was strangely cautious with bringing the Brazilian into the team last season but looks finally to be fully willing to commit him.

Son is the obvious front-runner of Spurs’ wingers, and it is his proven goalscoring record, and abilities in the final third of the pitch which sets him apart and garners him a solid starting place in the team when he returns from the Asian Games. Son pairs is pace, and dribbling flare with what is an often-world-class finishing that led him to be preferred to Llorente in Harry Kane’s absence for periods last season.

While Son’s ability is not in question, strength on the wings was one of the positions the club was under pressure to buy, with both Martial and Zaha often claimed to be heading to Tottenham during the summer. As a result of Tottenham coming out of the transfer window empty-handed, a much greater scrutiny will be placed on Lamela and Moura, players that the Tottenham hierarchy deemed good enough not to replace this coming season. This is of particular importance in light of the unpredictable nature of Son’s current predicaments. The rest of the ‘big six’ certainly boast more impressive options in these positions, buying wingers a mainstay of the always useful, not overly-expensive crowd-pleaser signing (see Sanchez/Mahrez), but at this early stage in the season, with Lamela still in recoil from a year-long injury and Moura only just beginning to show what he can do, I tend to have tentative faith in Spurs’ options. Neither are world-beaters, but both have understated effectiveness in the roles they are employed.

Signing a Martial or a Zaha would’ve undoubtedly improved the squad, as the introduction of world-class players undoubtedly improve any squad. What we are beginning to see however, is that we do have some at least decent options in those areas, and while they may not be particularly flashy, they do add a certain energy to the squad. Tottenham’s more pressing issues lie elsewhere, particularly the age-old concern of finding effective cover for Harry Kane, and subsequently knowing the right time to take him off when his name and ravenous desire for goals overshadows his occasional ineffectiveness. More quality will eventually be necessary but for now I’m happy with seeing how they progress.

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