Bale, Bergwijn, Son and 4-3-3s: Addressing the conundrum surrounding Tottenham fringe man

To date, the current Premier League season has been by far the strangest. No fans, added crowd noise, handballs and the debate over whether three or five substitutes should be allowed have dominated headlines over the last couple of months.

However, some time has passed since the first ball was kicked on the opening day of the Premier League season way back in Aug… *checks notes* September.

For Tottenham, that start to the season looked as if it was going to be a hellish run. With the Carabao Cup, Europa League qualifiers and the Premier League to worry about, Jose Mourinho could have been forgiven for expecting to bow out of at least one competition before Christmas.

That hasn’t happened just yet though, and with the Lilywhites top of their Europa League group after three games and facing a trip to Stoke just days before Christmas in the Carabao Cup quarter-final, it looks as if Mourinho will go into the New Year with plenty of silverware still on the table.

The way that he’s achieved that is through strict use of squad rotation in almost every area. Only four outfielders have played a part in all of the Lilywhites’ opening nine Premier League games (Harry Kane, Heung Min Son, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Tanguy Ndombele), with only a further five having started at least five games (WhoScored).

That’s where we get onto what can only be described as a selection headache for Jose Mourinho. We all know very well that Son is one of the best players in the Premier League, add to him the signing of that Welsh bloke – Gareth something – and you have two sublime wingers.

Then just behind the pairing of Gareth Bale and Son falls the enigmatic Dutch winger: Steven Bergwijn – who lit up his debuting showing us all what he could do when he bagged a stupendous first goal for the club against Manchester City and went on to score 3 Premier League goals in his first half-season in England (Transfermarkt).

We’re not done yet. Lucas Moura, the hat-trick hero from Spurs’ biggest game in recent memory, is another to add to the mix. The Brazilian is one who’s work-rate is not to be sneered at, making up for what is perceived as poor decision-making with his ability to cover back defensively.

Then we get to the fifth member of Mourinho’s quintet of wide-men, Erik Lamela. The Argentine is such an interesting player. A feisty yet creative attacking midfielder who on the face of things looks like a great fit under Mourinho is finding himself in a similar position to where he’s been for a while – on the side lines.

However, Tottenham’s #11 was a surprise inclusion when they demolished Manchester United 6-1 at Old Trafford yet has been struggling for minutes in the last few weeks.

He’s made just five appearances in the Premier League this season, totalling a measly 189 minutes (WhoScored), and with Bale now coming into the side Lamela is as far from the starting eleven as he’s ever been.

A calf injury has him out of action at the moment (Premier Injuries), but even when he returns it’s hard to see a way in which he’ll be breaking into the club’s strongest side on a consistent basis given the four options he’s got ahead of him.

At the age of 28, these should be the best years of Lamela’s career as a footballer, yet it’s hard to find an argument strong enough to convince us that he’s got enough to add to this Tottenham side.

It’s quite clear that his time on the pitch is predominantly going to come when Spurs are playing in the lesser cup competitions, but any winger who has picked up more bookings (38) than goals (35) (Transfermarkt) in over seven years at one club cannot be justified as a key player.

This is where Lamela either needs to show us all why he should be starting or move on, and whilst it’s hard to see him performing out on the wing, there is one area that we’re suggesting he might perform.

Four players have the two wide options nailed on, but if Tottenham are to lose either of Ndombele or Giovani Lo Celso – two players who missed 18 games between them last season (7 for Ndombele and 11 for Lo Celso) – then the creative midfield role will have to be filled by the other one in every game.

That’s where he can see Lamela filling in. The aggressive left-footed general can often be found breaking up counter-attacks and picking up bookings as well as completing mazy dribbles and creating chances, so maybe dropping him into a midfield line behind Son, Kane and Bale could prove fruitful.

In Lamela’s 29 games that he’s played as an attacking midfielder for Spurs he’s scored eight goals and assisted a further seven (Transfermarkt). When coupling that with the fact that he’s averaged 1.2 dribbles, 0.7 key passes and 1 tackle per game in the Premier League last season (WhoScored) make for some interesting reading.

Those numbers aren’t to be sniffed at. The ex-Roma man is a player who can be a real work horse, forcing those around him to combine with his blood and thunder approach to football, and utilising him as both a back-up winger and rotational number 8 could grant him a new lease of life under Mourinho.

The number of games that Tottenham have already played in this season is remarkable. Sixteen games have been and gone in 2020/21 – meaning Tottenham have played once every 4.375 days on average – and that’s before factoring in two international breaks.

With the fixture pile up only intensifying with the Christmas period fast approaching it appears that Mourinho will be forced to continue rotating his side, and if the Portuguese tactician happens to start using Lamela through the midfield then we’ll be certainly be sitting up and taking note.

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