Lucas Moura would have been forgiven for losing hope last season. The Brazilian forward made just 11 appearances for Tottenham Hotspur having signed from Paris Saint-Germain in January, and looked lost, out of place.
This season, though, he has been reinvigorated. Tottenham were criticised for their inactivity in the summer transfer window, but Lucas, such has been his level of improvement, feels like a new addition to the squad.
The 26-year-old has benefited from the trust shown by Mauricio Pochettino, and from the tactical intelligence of the Argentine coach. Lucas, who had played almost exclusively as a right winger prior to joining Spurs, has been utilised across the front line this season (as evidenced by his heat map below).
Most notably, he has impressed in a more central role, playing off Harry Kane. He has scored four goals in 12 Premier League appearances and has established himself as an important member of Spurs’ first-team.
The main difference is that he has been more economical, more purposeful in attack. His total scoring attempts per 90 minutes is lower than it was last season – 1.51 compared with 2.57 – and he has taken fewer touches in the opposition box per 90 – 4.28 down from 5.46.
Of course, he possesses the ability to inject pace into the attack, a quality reflected in 35 successful take-ons across the Premier League and Champions League this season.
There is a sense that Lucas has a clear idea of his role in the team now. He is not roaming around aimless, without direction, as he appeared to be at times last season.
“Life is beautiful,” Lucas said earlier this month. “I play football and I love to play football. I have amazing friends here and the club is amazing. I always believed that I would play and help my team-mates. I always work hard and that’s why I think the opportunity has come.”
Pochettino’s influence is clear. He has transformed Lucas into a team player, essential when playing in this Spurs side. What stands out this season is Lucas’ defensive contribution, his ability to win the ball back high up the pitch.
He has made, on average, 1.07 interceptions and 1.87 tackles per 90 minutes. That would not have been expected of Lucas when he joined the club in January, but it is evidence of his transformation over the course of the last few months.
“The case was that last season he struggled a lot to adapt himself,” Pochettino has said. “All his career was playing on the right. He’s a winger, but this season we tried to adapt him in different circumstances in a position that can bring performances and help the team.”
Against Chelsea on Saturday, Tottenham will look to Lucas as one of their main attacking threats. If he starts on the right, he will no doubt look to capitalise on Marcos Alonso’s defensive vulnerability.
And even if Lucas does not find the net or set up a teammate, he will contribute in other ways. That could not have been said last season.