Tottenham's Erik Lamela hails fierce competition for places under Mauricio Pochettino
Erik Lamela feels he is making a fresh start at Tottenham and is keen to make up for the time he has lost through injury, but he is aware the competition for places has never been fiercer.
The Argentinian midfielder, who joined Spurs from Roma in 2013, missed the second half of his debut season in North London because of thigh and back injuries, and hip problems then sidelined him for over a year from October 2016 to November 2017.
He made 33 appearances after his return last campaign but struggled to secure a starting berth ahead of Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Son Heung-Min in Mauricio Pochettino's lineup. Now, as he prepares to face former club Roma in San Diego on Wednesday night, Lamela is aiming to launch a fresh challenge.
"Yes," he said, when asked if this feels like a new start for him. "Since I joined I had a lot of injuries. It's always a difficult time to play, then stop, then [stop] again.
"Now I'm not thinking about it. I'm trying to maintain my fitness, my body and to be ready if the team needs me. I have a lot of time to make up for.
"Is this the fiercest competition for places there has been during my time at the club? Yes, we're very strong in all positions.
"I think we have a very good team -- probably the best since I joined. It's good for me, the team, to have competition every day.
"We have a lot of games so everyone will get the opportunity to play. It's most important to keep pushing, to be together as a team and to try and win something."
Lamela feared for his career during his 13-month absence, when he underwent surgery on both of his hips, so it was a poignant moment when he signed a new four-year deal last week.
"I'm very happy to sign my contract," he said. "I'm very comfortable at the club at the moment. All the people at the club treat me very well, so I'm pleased.
"It was a long and difficult time for me [when I was injured], but I feel no pain now and hopefully everything is in the past. It was so tough, emotionally and mentally. Every time I bumped into someone I would be asked how I was and when I was coming back -- and there were times when I didn't know the answer myself.
"[At first] we did a programme in the gym to strengthen everything, to get better, to improve the core work, to see if the pain would go. After that we made the decision [to have surgery], I didn't want to lose more time, so one day I told the club 'I want to have the operation and that's it'.
"Every operation is a risk. Of course a hip operation is difficult and not very common. I was scared I wouldn't be able to play again, but I trusted the surgeon. He told me 'Erik, you will be OK' and I believed him."
"The surgeon told me I would be good now until I finish my career," Lamela continued. "But in football you never know so I am working every day in my body, with the physio at the club and sometimes on holiday too. I dedicate all the time I need to staying fit.
"As a player all you want to do is play. It was so tough for me as all I could do was watch my teammates train. I couldn't train properly and it was so hard for me.
"But now I am injury-free and enjoying every single training session."