What's Caused Dele Alli's Fall From Grace?
Boldly, Mauricio Pochettino declared Dele Alli as the best player in his age group early in the Englishman's Tottenham career. Eighteen months in, though, the player finds his career at a sticking point and the manager wondering if he must eat his words. Once a key component in Gareth Southgate's squad, starting every knockout game for England during the World Cup, he is now on the periphery. What’s happened to Tottenham’s poster boy?
When Pochettino made his statement, Harry Kane was injured. The Argentine needed a few good performances from the players who were available. Whether or not the boss was sincere, Alli responded, scoring twice against Real Madrid in the Champions League.
That was two years ago. If ever there was an opportunity for Alli to get his career back on track, it was the Champions League match against Bayern Munich. Instead, he failed remarkably as Spurs were trounced at home 7-2.
It was a missed opportunity. Still only 23, there's time to recover. Alli reportedly hired a nutritionist and cut back on commercial appearances to focus on rediscovering his mojo. Whether or not the changes work remains to be seen.
While 2018/19 was a season to remember for Spurs, not so much for Alli. He failed to hit the net in Tottenham's run to the Champions League final or at all since January. It's no wonder Southgate overlooks him for the England squad. He struggles to find a place in Pochettino's starting XI.
Since his return from injury in September, Alli featured in four games of eight. The three he started against Olympiakos, Colchester and Bayern all ended in disappointment, not just for the team as a whole, but Dele himself. He flattered to deceive.
The blame cannot be placed on him alone. The whole Tottenham squad is going through a rough patch. But it's been a long while since we’ve experienced the magic Alli can conjure. In 2016/17, he scored 18 goals in 37 Premier League games, winning a second consecutive PFA Young Player of the Year award.
Since then, he has only hit 15 in 64. It’s not just the goals and assists that dried up. Alli's numbers for dribbles, distance covered, shots and key passes also faded drastically. Last season was his worst in every category.
Against Liverpool on the weekend, Pochettino relied heavily on Alli and Christian Eriksen to exert their creative influence. Both failed miserably. Alli created zero chances for himself or teammates, made no key passes and took only one of-target shot [WhoScored]. His passing accuracy was a sub-par 71%.
So, why aren't we seeing the spontaneous, clinical Dele Alli whose linkup play with Harry Kane was pure telepathy?
The short answer is Son Heung-min. The South Korean's rise precipitates Alli's fall. His marauding runs, constant movement in the final third, relentless harrying of opponents and, in Alli's absence, his connection with Kane, make him the complete performer Dele used to be. Son assumed his teammate's former role and won't vacate it. Alli must find a new way to contribute.
The former MK Dons starlet used to be one of the first names on the team sheet. Now there is plenty of competition for places. Alli is no longer preferred to Eriksen, Lucas Moura and Erik Lamela and he will soon have Giovani Lo Celso, also 23 and coming back from injury, to provide further competition.
Even for England, you just cannot find a spot for Alli with a host of new players for Southgate to choose, James Maddison, Ross Barkley, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho to list a few. Then there is Callum Hudson-Odoi and Mason Mount making names for themselves. The way things are looking, it's difficult for Alli to find a space in either Tottenham or England’s line-up.
From having the world at his decorated feet, Dele Alli is now a player with all its weight on his shoulders.