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One Moment: Erik Lamela counter-press unlocks Aston Villa

AVFC held on for so long in their Premier League opener, but it took one moment for Erik Lamela to unlock them

Tottenham Hotspur v Aston Villa - Premier League Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

‘One Moment’ is a rebooted post-game Villa column that takes a closer look at one single moment from the last Villa game. This week, we’re looking at the moment in which Spurs’ siege on Aston Villa won through.


I so badly wanted to write about John McGinn nursing a bouncing football towards goal with his forward before scoring. A moment that gave us far too much belief, confidence and hope - but that wouldn’t do this column justice. We are looking for the one moment that defined the game, and that would be when Erik Lamela’s counter-press robbed Villa to secure the win.

Tanguy Ndombele scored first - but it almost hardly matters - Tottenham were always going to score and despite Villa’s defense holding up for so, so long courtesy of Tyrone Mings, Björn Engels and Tom Heaton, it was a question not of if but when - when it came to a Tottenham goal. Due to Spurs’ willingness to hoover up the football and dominate the proceedings, Villa were helpess and couldn’t enforce the high-line that they deployed in the Championship. Tottenham were all too happy to pass around, wait and engineer chances.

So, one moment. It came after Ndombele carefully caressed the ball with his foot, tucking it past the heroic stretching frame of Heaton. One-One. A panicked Villa knew that the game was slipping through their fingers and yet they attempted still to hold onto the fine sands of a single point as Spurs whipped up a gale. Led by a returning Christian Eriksen, Tottenham found with ease the scoring chances that they had been searching for the entire match. But chances don’t always come from neat passes and careful combinations down the flank - they can come from the perfect execution of a gameplan to set-up the single moment; the platform needed to win.

Enter Erik Lamela.

From an outsiders perspective you get the feeling that Erik Lamela exists in a vacuum. What’s his reason or meaning to this Spurs team, apart from stepping up in an injury crisis? There are far better players, but Tottenham didn’t really need anyone apart from Lamela - and Harry Kane - to undo Aston Villa and find a winning goal in the 86th minute to make it 2-1 to Spurs.

It unfolds like this. Jack Grealish does what he’s always done - he collects the ball on the edge, waits for a second, and then sprints forward. That’s what usually happens, It’s how a lot of Villa goals start. Maybe it would have been the precursor to a Villa goal if not for our moment of discussion?

Grealish held onto the ball for too long in this match. The style of play demanded by the Premier League - and high tempo teams like Tottenham - does not allow for patience and calm heads. Grealish’s calmness of mind under pressure is an asset, but it was the single weakpoint that the counter-press was able to undo. As he searched for an opportunity, Lamela burst forward from the box and stole the ball from him. In If you dwell far too deeply on the matter, how much control did Grealish have over the eventual fate of the ball? Not too much. In fact, during this passage of gameplay, there’s not a single second where Grealish isn’t being hunted down. The fate of the ball had already been decided the second Lamela darted into a counter-press following the breakdown of an attack. Even before Grealish takes a single footballing movement, Lamela is onto him.

It’s a marvel to behold:

Lamela dispossess Jack Grealish, turns and goes for goal. Douglas Luiz steps in to close down the attacker, but fails. Lamela strikes and the poor shot bounces from the foot of Tyrone Mings into Björn Engels and falls, somehow, into the path of an already advancing Harry Kane who strikes, scores and wins the game. Despite the fact that Kane would double up minutes later, this goal

It’s very easy to make a case for everyone involved in this segment of gameplay. Engels could perhaps lean into Kane, one of the world’s footballing elite in his position. Mings could be more sure-footed in his block. Douglas Luiz could perform a more patient press to force Lamela to second-guess himself instead of rushing in. Jack Grealish could’ve cleared the ball.

Grealish mistake, the superb execution of a counter-press, or both? It’s up to you to decide, but more and more it seems like it was a match that only Tottenham, one of the better teams in football, would be capable of winning.