There's been a few hot topics in the Premier League of late. One of them is, of course, the Granit Xhaka saga. Another has been the fall from grace of two-time PFA Young Player of the Year Dele Alli.
Three years ago, Alli was seen as the brightest young talent in England, and was being linked with the likes of Real Madrid. In the present day though, the midfielder would be lucky to get a move to Real Betis.
There have been cases where players' performances have fallen off a cliff - but you don't really know why. But with Dele Alli, it seems pretty obvious as to why he has become a shadow of the footballer he was years ago.
First things first, the Spurs man is only 23. He has time on his side. He has suffered with injuries and as a result, is struggling with his confidence. Mauricio Pochettino should continue with him in the team and back him, and hopefully with more game time will come more confidence, and with more confidence will come more goals.
Clearly the Argentine will do this, which was made clear by his quotes from his recent press conference.
"We need to remember that Dele is still so young and the demand and the pressure on him is massive. Everyone expects big things from him but he’s only 23 years old. Okay, he’s now dropped a little bit but we need to help and back him.”
Pochettino will insist on the player, and hope that he plays himself back into form. It is vital that he continues to back him on the pitch and publicly, and hopefully the player will reward him for his support.
Confidence is clearly the biggest issue. But how has he lost that confidence? Perhaps it came from Pochettino expecting too much of the player. Perhaps he was never as well-rounded a footballer as the manager thought.
None of this is to say, though, that Alli is a bad player.
Following a dismal individual performance from Alli against Liverpool last weekend, there was a heated debate in the Sky Sports studio about the player and his struggles. Gary Neville claimed that he once saw the England international as the next Roy Keane - an all action, box-to-box midfielder in the centre of the park.
He couldn't have been more wrong.
In fact, Jamie Carragher's description of the player was absolutely spot on. Alli has never been a central midfielder. His best work has come - as said by Carragher - as almost a 'second striker'. The best Alli has been the player who plays off of Harry Kane, making runs into the box and tucking away goals for fun. His instinctive finishing has always been his best quality.
Remember his goal at Goodison Park a few years ago? A stunning forward pass from Toby Alderweireld into the path of Alli - making a classic Alli run off the defender's shoulder - who volleyed home superbly.
Remember his stunning performance in a 2-0 win at home against Chelsea back in 2017? Two runs into the box, two crosses from Christian Eriksen, two headed goals. The best Dele Alli gets into the box and scores goals. It really is as simple as that
He has never had the ability to spray a pass. He has never been the type of midfielder to drive from deep or orchestrate from midfield. He hasn't got that in his artillery. He has to find himself in the box.
Kane and Alli together were one of, if not the best partnership in the Premier League for a few years. Their link up play was sensational. The racked up goal after goal up front together. But that just doesn't happen anymore. How come?
It all comes back to that original point. Maybe Pochettino thought too much of the player. Maybe he believed that there was more to his game than just scoring. This has been made clear over the past year and a bit. Alli has been playing much deeper, which has completely nullified his ability to get into the box and score goals. As a result, his form and confidence have dipped.
But there could be another reason for Alli's positional change: the form of Son Heung-min. When Kane was injured last season, Son went up front and performed superbly, scoring a number of goals in the absence of their talisman. As a result, when the England captain returned, it was impossible not to play the South Korean alongside him up front. This left Alli in the wilderness. There was no slot available for him to play in his favoured role, so was forced out of position.
However, this season Alli has seemingly returned to his preferred role just off of Kane. Pochettino has returned to a 4-2-3-1, with Son and Erik Lamela playing on the wings, and Alli playing in an advanced role behind Kane. This means that there is no longer an excuse. His performances in the last few games suggest that it is no longer a positional issue, and more of a mentality one.
Pochettino is showing faith in the player. He has publicly backed him and will continue playing him during his difficult spell. He has also returned him to his best role.
Alli must find that hunger to score goals again. He must remember what he did best during his first few years at the club. Otherwise, should he continue in this vein, his career may turn out to be one of the biggest let-downs in English football.
It's in your hands now, Dele. It's now or never.
Source : 90min