Football Features

Is Giovani Lo Celso now Spurs’ most important player?

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 10:57, 10 March 2020

Tottenham Hotspur haven’t won since mid-February, losing four of their last five games.

Son Heung-min scored a stoppage-time winner against Burnley on 16 February, but broke his arm afterwards and without their two best scorers (Son and Harry Kane) José Mourinho’s men have seriously lacked punch in attack. They were knocked out of the FA Cup by Norwich and are on the verge of Champions League elimination having lost 1-0 at home to RB Leipzig in the first leg of their last 16 tie.

On the whole, the entire side looks incapable of raising themselves. But one player has been fighting the good fight. One player has been dragging Spurs by the scruff of their necks and carrying them into every game with creativity and ferocity to the point where, yes, Mourinho’s men have lost four and drawn one but they’ve not lost any game by more than a single goal.

Who is this hero? Giovani Lo Celso.

The Argentinian joined on loan in the summer with a £55m option to buy that Spurs executed in January. He never really got much of a chance to shine under Mauricio Pochettino because of a hip injury that ruled him out of action for 43 days. This slowed his adaptation to England and the main victim in all of that was Pochettino himself, as he could never really field a fully fit, fully sharp version of his compatriot.

Pochettino had never really managed to replace the role Moussa Dembélé played at the heart of his side’s midfield. Simultaneously a tackler who could defend, a passer who could create and a dribbler who could bamboozle. That skillset was so key to the way his Spurs side played that it’s no surprised they struggled without the Belgian.

Lo Celso has that same skillset.

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Alright, the Argentinian doesn’t look like he could bench press a bear for ESPN’s Body Issue, but aside from the size difference Lo Celso plays the game very much as Dembélé did. He is a ferocious tackler, he threads the eye of the needle nicely and he loves a good dribble.

Without Lo Celso to inject life into the Spurs midfield, Pochettino’s men succumbed to countless defeats and dropped points, leading to his sacking. In came José Mourinho, and the Portuguese predictably pushed Lo Celso to the side at first. But injuries forced him to deploy the Argentine in central midfield, and things took off from there.

The common feature between all of Spurs’ latest games has been a breathtaking midfield performance from Lo Celso, badly let down by his team-mates playing terribly. In the three Premier League games since Son’s absence, Lo Celso is leading Spurs in terms of tackles (11), chances created (4), completed dribbles (8) and passes into the final third (22). He’s also second in terms of successful passes (146).

So yes, Spurs have not been particularly good lately, but Lo Celso has been. With the Argentinian’s excellence in the middle of the park they will always have a chance in games.

This is especially pertinent as Spurs look towards their tie against RB Leipzig, knowing they have to turn around a 1-0 home deficit away in Germany. They will be pinning so many of their expectations on Lo Celso in the hopes that the Argentinian’s midfield excellence can help them to counter the hyper-mobile system of RB Leipzig and drive the ball up the field where, even though Steven Bergwijn is now out injured, someone, somehow will be able to grab a goal. Or maybe they’ll need Lo Celso to do that too.

Don’t put it past him…