If there was any doubt remaining over Erik Lamela's importance for Tottenham, it was banished at Anfield on Saturday.
As it was in their 0-0 draw in the reverse fixture with Liverpool, there was little between the two sides, who could only muster a 1-1 draw despite a plethora of chances.
The Premier League table tells a different story. Spurs should have been capable of beating the Reds if they had been at their best. That was not how it turned out, however, because Spurs lacked their usual flourish in the final third.
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Dele Alli was not his usual fiery self, and in the first half, Christian Eriksen struggled in a gridlocked midfield. At full strength, it would have fallen to Lamela to carve up Liverpool's defence. Without taking anything away from the home sides' defending, particularly that of Dejan Lovren, who was excellent, Spurs should have been able to hit home at least one more chance.
Spurs frustrated going forward
Rather than the usual accusations levelled at Spurs regarding their ability to cope with pressure, at times, the problem lay not in their mentality, but in their lack of ingenuity. The frustrating paradox for Pochettino, who has spent so much time trying to strengthen his players mentally, was that now that has been achieved, it looks as though it will not quite be enough to win them any silverware. Spurs are typically praised for their flowing football, and criticised for their mental weakness; without Lamela, they found themselves in precisely the opposite scenario.
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The fact that the 24-year-old's absence hurt Spurs so badly is testament to how he has transformed into a new player this season. With that in mind, it is of vital importance that he is fit for Sunday's face-off against Manchester United.
Having suffered a muscle strain while on international duty with Argentina, Lamela is being regularly assessed in the hope he can rejuvenate the team.
Lamela can inspire Spurs
Spurs are desperate to have the playmaker fit for the clash, as it is likely that United will try and shut them out. Louis van Gaal's side will be characteristically on guard, and that could make the game more pedestrian than usual. As United proved against Everton, they are also able to sneak goals even when things are not going their way.
That means Spurs must take their chances, and cannot afford to be wasteful. Lamela is typically instrumental in creating opportunities, but he can also convert them.
His extra edge is what sets him apart from Heung Min-Son. While Son has been seen drifting out of position and being drawn into the centre, Lamela can ensure that Spurs retain the width they need against United.
Even if he is not fully fit, it would not be surprising if Pochettino risked him for the all-or-nothing fixture. Depending on how Leicester have fared against Sunderland, a win against United could just about put Spurs back in the title race. Anything less, and they will be looking over their shoulders at Arsenal, and not at closing the gap at the top of the table.
United will be wary
The tide has undoubtedly turned from the days of Sir Alex Ferguson's famous quote to his United dressing room: "Lads, it's Tottenham." Van Gaal will be far more cautious of the Lilywhites, and that will be reflected in the way he sets his team up.
A draw would not be disastrous for the Red Devils in their pursuit of Champions League football, but it would be for Spurs, who now have just six games to put themselves back in contention for the title.
Can Spurs still win the title? Have your say in the comments below!
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