Dele Alli – Back to his best, or still more to come?
From playing League One football with MK Dons one year, to lining up for Tottenham Hotspur in the Europa League the next, it’s important to remember just how rapidly Dele Alli has risen to fame on the football pitch.
It was a crazy couple of months for the England youngster, whose teenage displays earned him the Young Player of the Year trophy at the Football League Awards, before eventually earning him a five-and-a-half-year deal with the Premier League side. It’s widely forgotten about now, but the couple of million paid for his services back in 2015 should unquestionably be considered as one of the greatest deals carried out in the modern era of multi-million-pound transfers.
A debut as a substitute at Old Trafford soon followed, with his first goal for his new club coming just two weeks later after once again coming off the bench to score against eventual league champions Leicester City. Replacing Eric Dier and Christian Eriksen in the important fixtures, it was clear to see that Alli would be entrusted with roles as both a holding and an attacking-midfielder in a Spurs side going through changes.
Fast-forward to the closing stages of 2019 and the England international is back among the league’s best. As well as returning to his impressive performances in front of goal, the midfielder has also reached an important landmark in his career, making his 200th appearance for the north London outfit in all competitions in the win over Wolves earlier this month. Not only an admirable achievement but one that proves his loyalty to a club that certainly hasn’t had it all their own way in recent seasons.
Moreover, he’s still only 23 years old. It’s, therefore, an even more remarkable feat, particularly as most supporters out there often forget just how young he really is. And with that extra ounce of experience comes the extra responsibility, which Alli has taken in his stride ever since the arrival of Mourinho. It’s not only a more gifted performer we’ve now got on our hands, but a more mature one, if not for one minor tantrum against Chelsea.
From bursting onto the scene in 2015, however, it’s clear to see the youngster wasn’t his usual self in the past couple of campaigns. For various reasons – one of those undoubtedly involving a more defensive role under former boss Mauricio Pochettino – the goals and assists in the Premier League have dried up in recent years. From 28 goals and 16 assists in his first two seasons in the capital, Alli managed just 14 goals and 13 assists in the next two, with his deeper role and niggling injuries certainly taking a toll. Nonetheless, the charts still tally an impressive 47 goals and 32 assists for the versatile midfielder, helped by his five goals and 3 assists in the current campaign, already equalling his statistics from last season.
It perhaps doesn’t happen often enough, but a new manager has brought out a new lease of life in one of his players, with Alli really enjoying life under the Portuguese boss. The midfielder boasts four goals and three assists in his seven games under Jose, with crucial efforts arriving against Olympiacos and Bournemouth, as well as that undeniable technique and ability that shone through in his stunning strike against Manchester United.
So, what’s the key to such a resurgence in form? The key to the revitalization of one of the most gifted players of his generation? Playing under one of the greatest managers that the game has ever seen firstly cannot be overlooked. Mourinho has brought all of his cunning, his wit and his charm to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, with many of his players reacting positively to the change in management.
And speaking of those players, it’s clear to see why Alli can enjoy his role further up the pitch. With Eric Dier and Moussa Sissoko operating behind him – the 23-year-old has less of a burden on his shoulders in terms of tracking back. Combine that with his freedom to link up with the attacking talents of Lucas Moura and Heung-Min Son either side of him, as well as Harry Kane up top, he simply couldn’t ask for a better role under a better manager. Could it be made even better with the likes of Tanguy Ndombele, Giovanni Lo Celso and Ryan Sessegnon lining up alongside him? Perhaps so.
Despite a miserable Spurs performance against Chelsea, where not a single player could raise their hand and say they gave their best, Alli still boasts a passing accuracy average of around 80% under Jose, with nine key passes in there along with 14 dribbles. He even had more touches per 90 minutes and more shots per 90 in three games under the Portuguese than in over twice as many minutes on the pitch under Poch, with a better goal return than his main striker.
The midfielder finds himself above Christian Eriksen in the pecking order, and now finds himself with 10 of his 16 shots on target this season, as well as an average of 36 passes per game. And even though it’s a much more progressive role, the English youngster has also chipped in with 20 tackles, ten interceptions and five clearances thanks to his 6 ft 2 in frame, which has also helped him win 60 duels.
It was always going to be incredibly difficult to keep up the tremendous standards that Dele Alli set for himself and indeed the standards others set for him, particularly at such a young stage in his development as both a player and as a human being. He looks to be back to his best, and he looks to be enjoying life on a football pitch once again.
Written by Peter Lynch