Mauricio Pochettino believes that the return of Érik Lamela's "energy" can provide impetus to Tottenham Hotspur's season after disappointing results against Arsenal and West Bromwich Albion have left his side 13 points adrift of the leaders, Manchester City.
The Argentina winger is expected to be named in a Premier League match-day squad for the first time since last October when Spurs face Leicester City at the King Power Stadium on Tuesday, having told Pochettino he has fully recovered from hip injuries that required two operations. Lamela, who joined from Roma in 2013 for a then club record £30 million, featured for an hour for Tottenham's under-23s in their defeat by Chelsea last week and is in contention for a place on the bench, although Pochettino said the player's return to first-team action would be closely monitored.
“Some players have the capacity to play from the beginning after an injury and have the same performance before they were injured,” the manager said. “Others need more time because their body is different. I always said that he needed time to recover his feeling.”
Asked if Lamela had been worried that he might never play again after so long out, Pochettino said: “I never said he was worried, only he was waiting to feel again that emotion for him to step up and say: ‘Now I believe I can cope with the pressure to play and I am sure I am going to give my best.’”
The draw against a managerless West Brom on Saturday means Tottenham have the same number of points as at this stage last season, although Pochettino was keen to point out that their advance to the knockout stages of the Champions League as group winners ahead of Real Madrid is evidence of progress. But whereas Spurs were at this point seven points behind the leaders Chelsea before finishing as runners-up, the emergence of Manchester City as title favourites has made their task of finishing one place higher this season even more difficult.
A lack of forward options has at times held Tottenham back this season – they have scored fewer goals than any other side in the top six – and Pochettino expects the return of Lamela to give his team an extra dimension in attack.
“I think for the team it is important,” he said. “To have another option to play, to have the capacity to play in a different way, for the team it is very healthy. I think we miss his energy – his energy is massive. You can feel when he is on the pitch he is always available to run, to press. And when he has the ball he has the capacity to beat opponents. I think we miss him because he is a completely different option.”
Tottenham resisted the temptation to replace Lamela in the summer despite injury problems that have restricted him to 85 Premier League appearances. His contract is up for renewal at the end of next season but Pochettino clearly has faith that the 25-year-old, signed by André Villas-Boas, will return to his best after such a testing year.
“He was very down,” Pochettino said. “He’s still so young but it was a massive problem for him. To get through two hip operations, you need to be strong. But he has a massive energy and is a very energetic person. When you see him in the dressing room or restaurant he is always moving. He is hyperactive – that’s how he is on the pitch. He loves to run, loves to feel the ball at his feet.”