How Lucas Moura has become the fall guy with the return of the Fab Four

There have been 75 Brazilian players to grace the Premier League yet only four of them have had the honour of winning the competition’s Player of the Month award. Phillipe Coutinho never managed it, neither did Robinho and Roberto Firmino still awaits his first. Tottenham’s Lucas Moura has, though, collecting his mantlepiece decoration in August off the back of a sparkling start to the 2018-19 season. Lucas benefited (although he probably didn’t see it that way at the time) from having a summer break and full pre-season as 12 of his teammates participated in the World Cup in Russia – only Manchester City (16), Real Madrid (15) and Barcelona (14) had more representatives at the tournament.

With eight of the dozen still involved in the World Cup until the semi-final stage, it created openings in the side for others who hadn’t been regulars, including Lucas who amassed just 208 minutes of Premier League action after signing from PSG in January during the second half of last season. He started all three of Spurs’ games in August, scoring in a 3-1 win over Fulham before netting a sensational double in a historic 3-0 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford. The second goal was a delight, as Lucas received the ball on the halfway line, scampered past a despairing Chris Smalling and then left David De Gea clutching at thin air after dispatching an unstoppable shot beyond him and into the far corner.

That piece of individual inspiration virtually secured Lucas the Player of the Month award, but since those three strikes in August, he has mustered one solitary goal in 759 Premier League minutes since, spanning nine games across September, October and November. Factoring in Champions League and League Cup appearances too and Lucas has just two goals from his last 15 games in all competitions. The goals have dried up and so too could his minutes. Only Harry Kane and Toby Alderweireld have racked up more for Spurs in the Premier League this season but for the first time Lucas was omitted from the starting line-up for last weekend’s 3-1 win over Chelsea. Unfortunately for him, it was the club’s best performance this season, by a distance. It was the type of display that Spurs have become renowned for producing in the Pochettino era but that has been lacking for the majority of the campaign. As well as the much-publicised off-field issues at Spurs this season, Pochettino has also had problems on it, with a lengthy injury list ensuring that the club’s medical department has been kept extremely busy. Both Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen have already missed more games this season than they did for the entirety of 2017-18, while Son Heung-Min’s successful attempt to swerve military service by winning the Asian Games in September ruled him out of club duty for six weeks. Shorn of his most creative players and main sources of goals from midfield, Pochettino had to alter his system which resulted in Spurs becoming a more functional, methodical side than the free-flowing one that has ripped through teams over the past few seasons.

One of the most significant tactical changes that Pochettino made was to utilise Kane in a deeper role up front, with the Spurs No.10 replacing the likes of Alli and Eriksen as a support player rather than focal point. That suited Lucas, as it was he who pushed on as the outlet, operating as the most advanced player in the side. Overall, it worked fine – it was Kane’s pass to Lucas that resulted in the Brazilian’s second goal against United – but ultimately, it meant that Spurs’ biggest goal threat was generally situated further away from the opposition penalty box, as there was a greater onus on him to create and link play. However, against Chelsea, Kane was reunited with his supporting cast since 2015 of Alli, Eriksen and Son with the quartet playing together for the first time this season. It liberated Kane, who returned to his natural role at the top of Spurs’ system. His total of five attempts on goal against Chelsea was up from his seasonal average of 3.5, highlighting his shift further up the pitch.

All four of them played a direct part in each of Spurs’ goals. Both Kane and Alli scored from Eriksen passes while Alli also technically got the assist for Son’s 50-yard dash and finish for the third goal that ended the contest. They could have had more too, with Son, Kane and Alli all guilty of missing great chances to add to their respective tallies. A penny for Lucas’ thoughts as he sat and watched his teammates carve apart a Chelsea defence at will, as if it were a Year 11s vs Year 7s contest in the playground. That Son and Eriksen were named on the bench against Inter and then came on to change the outcome of the match, further suggests they could be involved from the off against Arsenal on Sunday. With Kane, Eriksen and Alli virtually assured of starting places when fit and Son finally up and running for goals this season, it is difficult to see where Lucas fits in ahead of the north London derby at the Emirates. Just four months ago Lucas was regarded as the most in-form player in the Premier League and it is a testament to the strength in depth that Spurs possess at the top end of the pitch that he now faces an uphill battle to cling onto his place in the side.


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