Bat­tle at Bridge no sweat for Lamela

Spurs’ Ar­gen­tine for­ward says his ex­pe­ri­ence of River-Boca derby leaves him with no fear of Blues

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - COMMENT / SOCCER - DAVID HYTNER

THE Su­per­clásico be­tween the Buenos Aires ri­vals River Plate and Boca Ju­niors is a writhing, seething mass of colour and emo­tion, and it has come to rep­re­sent the in­dus­try stan­dard for the harum-scarum derby. Érik Lamela played in it for River and the Tot­ten­ham winger can tell the story of how his team’s bus ar­rived at Boca’s La Bom­bon­era sta­dium in May 2011 with­out any glass in the win­dows. The stones hurled by the home sup­port­ers pro­vided the ven­ti­la­tion.

“In Ar­gentina the derby is dif­fer­ent,” Lamela says. “Out­side the pitch it’s dif­fer­ent. You have to see it to re­alise it. It’s much more than just one game. You have to win. If not, you are the worst. It’s too much. It’s not balanced.”

Lamela is well placed to grade the Bat­tle of Stam­ford Bridge — the dust-up be­tween Chelsea and Spurs in May 2016, in which there was eye-goug­ing, bench-emp­ty­ing flash­points and a level of malev­o­lence rarely seen in 21st-cen­tury Premier League foot­ball. Yel­low cards flut­tered like con­fetti. “It was sim­i­lar to the Su­per­clásico,” Lamela says, which is quite the com­pli­ment.

Tot­ten­ham’s re­turn to west London to­day is framed by the events of that Mon­day evening two years ago when, amid the melt­downs, they sur­ren­dered a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 and watched their ti­tle hopes evap­o­rate. Le­ices­ter were crowned as cham­pi­ons that night.

It was the same last sea­son when Spurs went back; they lost 2-1 in Novem­ber 2016. The Bat­tle of Stam­ford Bridge pro­vided the back story and there is ev­ery chance it will con­tinue to do so for a few sea­sons yet. It was such a rip-roarer that it serves as a ref­er­ence point, not least in terms of the ri­valry be­tween the clubs.

Non-Lon­don­ers may not re­alise it but Chelsea view Tot­ten­ham as the club they most love to hate, as do West Ham — to­gether with Arse­nal. The sit­u­a­tion is not ideal for Spurs. Six times a sea­son they face op­po­nents for whom the game is the ul­ti­mate must-win or must-not­lose af­fair.

John Terry glo­ried in the after­math of the Bat­tle of Stam­ford Bridge, post­ing a picture of him­self along­side his cen­tral de­fen­sive part­ner, Gary Cahill. “Twenty-seven years. Not on my shift,” Terry wrote. The last time that Tot­ten­ham won at Stam­ford Bridge was on Fe­bru­ary 10, 1990 — the day it was an­nounced that Nel­son Man­dela would be re­leased from prison.

“Of course, Chelsea don’t like us and they did their best to win the game,” Lamela says of the May 2016 meet­ing. “It’s foot­ball. If it was the other way around, we would have done the same thing.”

Lamela talks of how “a lot of things went on”, with one of them be­ing the stroll he took past Cesc Fàbre­gas, who was on the ground. Dur­ing it he trod non­cha­lantly on the Chelsea mid­fielder’s hand be­fore un­veil­ing his best innocent face.

“I didn’t see him, I was just walk­ing,” Lamela says, fight­ing to re­main con­vinc­ing. “I stepped on his hand, but it’s foot­ball, no? It can hap­pen. Some­times de­fend­ers kick me with­out the ball and I’m not say­ing any­thing and no one sees. It’s part of the game.

“What hap­pened in the game stays on the pitch and, af­ter­wards, ev­ery­thing is fin­ished. You do ev­ery­thing to try to win. Some­times, in a tackle, you want to take the ball but you ar­rive one sec­ond too late and it’s a big foul but you want to try to get the ball. This hap­pens when the game is very in­tense.”

Lamela in­sists that re­venge is not a part of the equa­tion for him but there is no doubt that an over­due vic­tory at Stam­ford Bridge would be sweet. It would strengthen Spurs’ hopes of a Cham­pi­ons League fin­ish and, at the same time, gravely un­der­mine those of Chelsea. “First we have to play the game but, if we won, we would have a very good chance to fin­ish in the top four,” Lamela says. “I hon­estly en­joy these der­bies the most be­cause I like to play with in­ten­sity, when the game is alive.”

Lamela is en­joy­ing his foot­ball more than ever and hint­ing at a re­turn to top form af­ter com­ing back in late Novem­ber from a 13-month in­jury lay­off. He con­tin­ues to dream of a World Cup call-up al­though he was over­looked by Jorge Sam­paoli for the most re­cent Ar­gentina squad.

Lamela, 26, says he is more ma­ture now, more able to deal with on-field set­backs. Away from the game he has ex­pe­ri­enced the an­guish of his brother, Axel, be­ing paral­ysed by a swim­ming pool ac­ci­dent and the joy of the birth of his son, To­bias. What shines through is Lamela’s sense of per­spec­tive. It could be needed to­day.

Chelsea v Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur Sky Sports, 4.0

Erik Lamela: ‘Some­times de­fend­ers kick me with­out the ball and I’m not say­ing any­thing and no-one sees. It’s part of the game’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.