Giovani Lo Celso’s first season at Tottenham Hotspur was likely not as successful as anyone wanted from a personal or team perspective. However, there are clear signs that Lo Celso can be the creative engine Spurs needs.
The first game for Tottenham Hotspur in 2019-20 — a 3-1 victory over Aston Villa — was August 10, 2019, just two days after Giovani Lo Celso was loaned from Real Betis to Spurs.
That loan occurred, just less than 40 days after Lo Celso had sealed a permanent transfer to Betis following a loan from Paris Saint Germain. Although the young Argentine had been on loan from PSG at Betis for from August 2018 to June 2019, the promising young attacker was only officially on the Betis books from July 1 until August 8.
After the whirlwind that was his contract and future, he finally found a team that wanted him in Spurs, they just were not sure for what. Luckily for Lo Celso and Tottenham, Jose Mourinho has figured out how best to deploy GLC and there is more promise than questions heading into 2020-21 for the attacker.
Lo Celso: Spurs and a tale of two coaches
While there were compounding factors like a hip injury and some adjustment time, Mauricio Pochettino did not seem to have a real idea of how to deploy the Argentine for success. While Lo Celso was injured for seven of the possible appearances he could have made under Pochettino, he made only eight total appearances between his signing in August and Pochettino’s sacking in November.
Across those eight appearances, Lo Celso accumulated a grand total of 240 minutes, starting only twice and playing the full 90 only once.
I will concede Pochettino had Christian Eriksen to play, but the reality is we all knew Eriksen was on the way out, but still played centrally over Lo Celso, as did Tanguy Ndombele in the mixed season for the midfield.
In those eight games under Pochettino, Lo Celso played left midfield, right wing, and right midfield, but not once in the center of the park. The 30 minutes he averaged under Pochettino gave fans little to go on and left many wondering if selling Eriksen in January was the right move.
However, in 29 appearances under Mourinho, it became clear that the Portuguese coach discovered that the best way to deploy Lo Celso and advance Spurs’ attack is by putting the Argentine in the middle of the pitch. Lo Celso averaged more than 65 minutes per appearance under Mourinho and played the full 90 eight times.
More importantly, he played center midfield 14 times under Jose and in the attacking midfield position a further five times. So, 19 of his 29 appearances put Gio in the middle of the park as the hub of the Tottenham ball movement.
This move was very apparent after the restart, where Lo Celso played centrally in eight of the nine restart games and in all but one of the last 11 games for Spurs overall. It was from the attacking midfield position where Lo Celso contributed his assists and began making his mark on the offensive side of the Tottenham approach.
If you then factor in Mourinho’s own words on Lo Celso, and that he would not swap the young attacker “for any player”, and it is clear Gio is going to be the fulcrum of Tottenham’s attack moving forward. This leads us to the question that maybe matters most: is Lo Celso up to the task? While his efforts did not produce the most end product, the evidence is there that GLC is going to come good for Spurs.
New year, new coach, new Lo Celso for Spurs
According to Whoscored.com, Giovani Lo Celso had 10 games for Spurs with a rating of a least seven for the match. Nine of those 10 matches came in 2020, with four of the 10 after the restart. Maybe even more encouraging than the top end side of his ratings is the bottom.
Lo Celso had four games with a rating below six on the season, but the last of which was back in January, in the 0-1 loss to Liverpool. Following that performance, Lo Celso, strung together several strong outings as he found his footing and place in the squad and under Jose Mourinho.
The ratings really help to begin telling the story of a player who was starting to find his way in the league and while his overall goals and assists were not where anyone wanted them to be, the other signs were there, as Lo Celso played his best and most complete football in 2020 for Spurs. And the statistics – other than goals and assists – start to show it.
Lo Celso’s statistics on the season only tell part of the story, as his 2020 showed what he is capable of, which is above and beyond the statistics. On the season, Lo Celso averaged essentially 36 passes per match. Of his 37 appearances, 12 of them had at least 39 passes, including two 90+ pass performances in June and July.
Eleven of those 12 matches where Lo Celso beat his average were in 2020. More importantly than the volume of passing is the success rate. On the season Lo Celso averaged what was essentially an 85 percent completion rate and completed at least 80 percent of his passes – not including substitute appearances – a dozen times, with nine coming in the new year. In other words, the more Lo Celso has the ball at his feet the more comfortable he is and the more successful his passing becomes.
More important than just passing well, is making key passes. A 1.1 key pass per appearance average is not bad, but really does not do justice to the player who completed the season for Spurs. Lo Celso had eight matches where he had at least two key passes and six of those eight games came in 2020. Likewise, Lo Celso had four games with at least three successful dribbles, and all came in 2020. This greater activity was not unnoticed by opposition, as Lo Celso had seven games on the season where he was fouled at least three times, and six of those seven matches were in 2020.
Beyond the growth in the offensive side of the game, similar success can be seen on the defensive side as well, where Lo Celso averaged nearly two tackles per match and had seven games – all in 2020 – with at least three tackles. This included an awesome eight tackles in the 2-1 victory over Chelsea in February.
Likewise, GLC had six of his eight games with at least one interception in 2020. This defensive contribution is particularly important, as defense can often lead to offense, particularly when it comes in the middle and attacking thirds where Lo Celso spends most of his time.
You put all this together and what starts to become clear is the picture of a player who was finding his place in the team and growing more and more comfortable both on and off the ball. Now that Lo Celso has found his place, comfort, and balance as Jose Mourinho has figured out where to deploy the Argentine, the sky is the limit for both Lo Celso and Tottenham.
What do you think, are the signs pointing in the right direction for Gio, or are we going to be disappointed by the ghost of Christian Eriksen?