Having this week signed a new contract to extend his stay in north London until 2024, Spurs fans are rejoicing in the knowledge that another key player has been tied down to a long-term deal.
Dele Alli made his debut for Tottenham at the age of 19 and has now pledged to stay until the age of 28 – barring he isn’t transferred in the meantime, of course.
Since he joined in 2015, Alli has scored 38 Premier League goals in 112 appearances; a return worthy of the league’s great midfielders. In fact, the Englishman contributed 62 Premier League goals and assists before he was 22, and only five other players have made more contributions to goals before that age in the league’s history.
From the outside in, then, Alli appears to be an indispensable member of Mauricio Pochettino’s squad, who doesn’t get the credit he deserves. But watching him play week in week out, Alli’s great goal-scoring record is a little less believable.
With Pochettino generally favouring the 4-2-3-1 formation, Alli regularly finds himself isolated out on the left wing where his skill set is not best employed. With Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela and Alli all wanting to play behind Harry Kane, it is inevitable that one or two will be forced into wider positions.
So often does Alli find himself one-on-one with a full-back and he panics, looking as comfortable as a centre-back might in the same position.
On the face of it, take away his goals, and Alli often fails to contribute in a 90 minute game. With his lack of pace, and often indecisive nature on the ball, he inevitably gets found out by the league’s better defenders. It’s when the ball is at someone else’s feet that Dele is most dangerous, with his runs off the ball being second to none.
In arguably his best performance in a Spurs shirt last year, Alli scored twice at Stamford Bridge as Tottenham came out 3-1 victors. Both those goals were extremely well taken, but both were scored with only two touches: the first to get it under control and the second to finish it off.
This is when the 22 year-old is at his best – in and around the box taking as fewer touches as possible. However, when Alli finds himself in a deeper or wider position with more time on the ball, his indecision often is his downfall and this is what leads to the frustration of supporters watching him every weekend.
Per Squawka, Dele had an average pass accuracy of 77% last season – a lower completion percentage than any other Tottenham midfielder. He also had a lower shot accuracy than any other attacking Spurs player at just 37%.
Does this mean that Dele Alli is just a ‘Match of the Day player’? Watching a ten minute highlight reel of a game will often put him in an impressive light, but watching him play for 90 minutes can leave supporters unsatisfied due to his bad habits and poor decision making.
✍️Only Harry Kane has scored more goals for Tottenham than Dele Alli, whose new contract runs until 2024, since the midfielder’s debut for the club.
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) October 30, 2018
Only Harry Kane has scored more goals since Alli’s debut in 2015.
His goalscoring record is proven and he has scored in big games unlike many of his peers, but should Tottenham fans and the manager expect more from his mercurial talent?
It has to be taken into account that he is only 22, and is already breaking Premier League records. He has already scored three Champions League goals, and almost single-handedly dispatched Real Madrid at Wembley last year. But what can Pochettino do to get even more out of him?
Firstly, can he play between the goalposts? When out on the wings, Alli can often drift through games without any meaningful contribution, but when playing more centrally off of Kane, Alli thrives and has a much more noticeable impact.
Secondly, he doesn’t need to, as many young players do, chase the ball and demand it all over the pitch.
Instead, he should bide his time and make the runs that are most harmful to Premier League defences, and trust the immense talents around him to find him in space.
Countless times have Spurs had the opportunity to launch a counter attack, but when the ball falls to Alli’s feet, he will slow it down, turn back or play a sideways or backwards pass to halt it. This is an example of how Alli needs to almost turn his back on the play until he is in a more dangerous position where his skill set will allow him to change games.
This gives Pochettino a selection headache, however, with at least three other players wishing to adopt the same role. But, if Alli is to join the conversation of Tottenham’s greatest midfielder from Rafa Van der Vaart to Glenn Hoddle, he has to be employed in a central position – and this responsibility falls at the feet of his manager to play him there.