Can Dele Alli rediscover his best form?
A flick with his right foot to send the ball looping up over his head, a graceful pirouette, followed by a devastating volley into the bottom corner of the net. Dele Alli had sent Tottenham Hotspur’s travelling support into raptures at Selhurst Park, leaving Crystal Palace players stood agape in disbelief. The goal epitomised all of Alli’s star qualities – the skill, the flair, the impudence. It was a landmark moment in his breakthrough Premier League season, a declaration that he was here to stay.
That was January 2016. Three and a half years later, Alli finds himself at something of a crossroads. He has been left out of Tottenham’s starting line-up several times in the opening weeks of the Premier League season, and niggling injuries have plagued him over the last few months, leaving the 23-year-old struggling for form and fitness in equal measure.
Despite his still tender age, Alli has racked up a great deal of experience in his career thus far. He has accumulated well over 100 appearances for Spurs and has represented England at the European Championships and the World Cup. He has helped Tottenham reach a Champions League final, and has scored over 50 goals for the North London club.
In just over four seasons, Alli has accomplished what many young English players would hope to achieve in an entire career, at least on a personal level. It could be that his early individual success has meant that a slump in form was inevitable at some stage. But to analyse Alli’s performances for Spurs of late shows an absence of the kind of flair and exuberance that defined that goal against Crystal Palace and all of his best performances in a Tottenham shirt. There have however been signs of promise in Dele’s appearances against Watford and this week against Crvena zvezda.
He has previously looked like a player bereft of confidence, rendered impotent by the fear of injury, sluggish on the ball, lacking in speed and power. Son Heung-Min, Lucas Moura and Erik Lamela have often been more dynamic options than the Englishman. The talent remains within Alli, the question is whether or not he can rediscover the magic that won the hearts of the Spurs faithful. Premier League betting places Spurs as favourites for a top-four finish, but they’ll need all their stars in top form if they are to achieve that.
Coach Mauricio Pochettino must find a way to get Alli fit and firing once again. Some sections of Tottenham’s supporters have questioned Pochettino’s management of the attacking midfielder, but he will know his players better than anyone, and judging by Spurs’ success under the Argentine, he is the right man to get Alli back in top form.
The nature of playing for a club like Tottenham is that first-team places can easily be lost. The competition in Spurs’ attacking areas is huge, with Alli, Son, Lamela, Moura and Christian Eriksen all vying for those forward positions behind Harry Kane. You feel that Alli at his best would be one of the first names on the team sheet, but he must first prove that he can rediscover his trademark flair.
When he is on song there are few players like him. Tall and strident, he intimidates defenders with his stature and baffles them with his quick feet and quick thinking. Alli has an air of unpredictability about him, the sense that he could produce magic out of nowhere – an invaluable asset to any team. It is this intangible, indefinable quality that has been lacking in recent months, and it is an attribute that is difficult to recover when lost.
They say that form is temporary and class is permanent, but the nature of modern football is such that high standards must be reached every week. There is no room for passengers at a club like Tottenham, whose aspirations are to challenge for titles, something that Alli has been finding out the hard way recently.
However, with Spurs’ involvement in both the Champions League and the FA Cup, there will be plenty of opportunities for Alli to rediscover the golden touch that wowed us all in his debut season at the club. He is still young after all, and his status as one of the Premier League’s best talents can lead supporters to forget that. All footballers experience peaks and troughs in their careers, but it is how those players bounce back from the hard times that define them.
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