First the bad news, which Spurs supporters and Daniel Levy may not want to hear. Erik Lamela is simply not up to it. Tottenham’s record signing, at €35m from Roma 18 months ago, showed once again that he cannot cut it in the Premier League. The Argentinian winger may have been a hit in Italy, and shown flashes of that form against lesser opposition in the Capital One Cup and Europa League, but he fails to impress when he has to step up to the level of the Premier League.
Unlike his home-grown team-mate Ryan Mason, who looks just as spindly but shows the strength and appetite to win the ball and use it effectively, Lamela fails to deliver time and time again.
Lamela was replaced at half-time by the more muscular Nacer Chadli, not only because the Belgian had more to offer going forward, but also because Lamela failed to help rookie right-back Eric Dier against the ever-present and effervescent threat of Yannick Bolasie, comfortably the game’s best outfield player. Bolasie’s performance, and his growing emergence as a bona-fide Premier League star, was one bit of good news to emerge from a goalless draw that did little to cheer either manager or set of fans. Spurs failed to build on last week’s win over Everton, which had started to bring the feelgood factor back to White Hart Lane after a run of dismal defeats.
Palace were much better and their main – and justifiable — complaint was they deserved more than a draw. Hugo Lloris had to pull off save after save to keep out Scott Dann, Jason Puncheon, Joe Ledley and Bolasie, who proved that centre-back Dier was justified in turning down the chance to play for England U21s at right-back because it is not a position he feels comfortable in.
Dier had to play there on Saturday, however, and Bolasie gave him and his team-mates a torrid time, using his speed and skill to set up chance after chance. One moment of trickery, when he flicked the ball up and past Christian Eriksen and Roberto Soldado from a seemingly impossible situation close to the corner flag, had everyone wondering ‘how did he do that?’
“It’s the stuff I used to do in the playground with my mates, so it’s great when it comes off in the Premier League,” explained Bolasie. “If you ask my schoolmates, they will tell you I used to do it all the time.”
His manager, Neil Warnock, agreed: ” He does a lot of that in training, absolutely ridiculous things. It’s spontaneous. Some days he does a trick and it’s laughable. But I say ‘do that in their half’.
“The only time I tell him off is when I tell him to smile a bit more. When he’s smiling he plays well.”
Bolasie has every reason to be smiling. Born in France but brought up in north London, he escaped the attention of Spurs and all the other big clubs and started out with non-league Wembley and Hillingdon Borough before a short sojourn playing in Malta. Returning to England, he moved around the lower divisions – even having a trial under Warnock at QPR – before his move to Palace and promotion to the Premier League 18 months ago.
“He played in a practice match and I said to Flavio (Briatore): ‘I can get this lad on €2,500 a week and he’s worth a shot, he won’t cost anything’. And he said ‘no you can’t sign anyone, I’m selling the club.’
“So I said to Yannick ‘If I was you I’d go south and get some games under your belt’. Which he did, going to Plymouth and Bristol City. He’s done it the hard way.”
Mauricio Pochettino knows he has a tough task if he is to bring back the entertaining and successful football Spurs supporters enjoyed under Harry Redknapp. The team were booed off again at the final whistle, and defender Jan Vertonghen understands the ire of the fans. “They are not wrong. I think we should be winning these games as well. And we try to. They want to win and I want to win. I understand the fans’ frustration.”
TOTTENHAM 4-2-3-1: Lloris 8; Dier 5 Fazio 6 Vertonghen 6 Davies 6; Mason 7 (Paulonh, 65), Bentaleb 7; Lamela 4 (Chadli, 46) Kane 6 Eriksen 6; Soldado 4 (Lennon, 83).
CRYSTAL PALACE 4-5-1: Speroni 7; Kelly 6 Hangeland 6 Dann 6 Ward 6; Zaha 5 (Puncheon, 65) McArthur 6 Jedinak 7 Ledley 5 Bolasie 9; Chamakh 6.
Referee: Lee Mason