Tottenham: Are we sure… Lucas Moura isn’t a summer signing?
The ‘Spurs failed to sign a player’ narrative grows old, but do Lucas Moura’s performances now render it irrelevant?
Despite early promises of a £150 million ‘war chest,’ Tottenham became the first side in Premier League history to… You already know the rest, such is the frequency of the argument. But you know what? It’s tiresome, so very tiresome. An over-used and frankly boring line of argument that’s not even worth finishing.
Tottenham’s 2018/19 campaign is already framed in the context of the ‘transfer window that never was’ to detract from what’s actually happening. The fact of the matter is that Spurs are two for two in the Premier League and look good value for money, despite a scattering of defensive hiccups. Hence, rendering the argument irrelevant. That is until they lose.
Their squad, too, looks markedly stronger and deeper now that Harry Winks and Erik Lamela have returned. Mauricio Pochettino has additionally done the impossible in swallowing his pride to reintegrate Toby Alderweireld while the awaited return of the World Cup stragglers are welcome additions.
The pick of the bunch, though, is Lucas Moura.
The 26-year-old arrived from Paris Saint-Germain in the January transfer window, but a lack of time to settle into life in North London pertained to sporadic appearances in the Premier League. Such are the demands that Pochettino levies on his players, Lucas was always earmarked as a signing for this season, his early arrival simply a means of ensuring he hits the ground running come August.
An indifferent start to life at Tottenham ensued, offset with sprinkles of promise, but three goals during an impressive pre-season campaign was indicative of what could come. However, an underwhelming performance against Newcastle — in which he was substituted just after the hour mark — perhaps reminded fans to retain caution in their optimism.
Saturday’s display, though, was the first coming. The first time Lucas has explicitly demonstrated just what he’s capable of with a full pre-season and six months to adapt already under his belt. A performance comprising all the individual facets you’d hope to see from a Pochettino forward. Early days just yet, but Lucas was good.
It didn’t start as manager, player and fans alike would have hoped, however. The Brazilian was getting into dangerous spaces playing off Harry Kane in a 3-4-3, and should have opened the scoring when he headed Ben Davies’ perfect cross wide from an unmarked position six yards out.
More of the same followed when a heavy touch — after great initial awareness to intercept a loose pass — allowed Fabri to beat him to the ball when through one-on-one, with Lucas’ foul on the Fulham ‘keeper at the time denying Kane his first goal in August.
This was a determined player with the right attitude, though. A never-say-never sort of mentality that ensured he kept getting into these spaces and didn’t drift into the game’s periphery.
And his persistence was rewarded when he netted his first Premier League goal two minutes before the break — a wonderful curling strike from the edge of the box, again demonstrating his awareness to beat a back-pedalling defence to the loose ball.
For so many, two botched chances against a Fulham side that were growing in confidence with every passing minute would have been enough to derail the rest of the performance. Not Lucas, though, a player whose determination has impressed Pochettino throughout pre-season.
“He needs to show that he is better than our players,” the Argentine said back in February. It’s been a few months under construction, but clearly this message was heard loud and clear. On this basis, Lucas is doing just that.
KEY STAT: Lucas won four tackles — more than any other Spurs player — recovered the ball three times and made two interceptions against Fulham.
“He scored but more importantly he worked very hard for the team without the ball,” Pochettino said after the game. An inherent fundamental of the Pochettino doctrine, Lucas was arguably the hardest working player on the pitch.
A relentless bundle of energy — a controlled bundle, that is — closing down the Fulham defenders quickly and efficiently, whilst tracking back when required, all of which are fundamental to the Pochettino doctrine. He didn’t tremble in the face of Premier League physicality either, rather rose to the challenge by showcasing his directness on the ball and slaloming dribbling.
When Lucas picked up the ball, there was a collective sense of excitement and he was arguably the one player that consistently posed a problem to the Fulham defence. He always sought to take players on, displayed an ability to go both inside and out, while his well-taken goal was just a gentle reminder that he, too, can finish like the best of them.
Tottenham are a team complete with dribblers, passers, finishers and crossers, but while they’re varied in their skillsets as a collective, what they did lack was a player as direct as Lucas. Son Heung-min was the former champion of these efforts, but the onus falls now falls on Lucas with the South Korean away at the Asian Games.
Whisper it quietly, but Lucas is almost akin to a new signing, which begs the question of whether Spurs ever needed to make any. It’s somewhat arrogant to agree with this sentiment — even Pep Guardiola’s record-breaking centurions added Riyad Mahrez for a club-record fee — but at least it undermines the perception that not signing anyone equates to regression.
Lucas’ performance was simply the cherry on the cake of a brilliant afternoon of football at Wembley. One in which Spurs seemingly picked up the baton of last season, with a host of names returning to reinforce what was already a strong squad.
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