The touch to bring down Eric Dier’s pass was sublime. The finish past Willy Caballero was unnervingly calm, the sort usually associated with a seasoned veteran. Combine both and it was just utterly ridiculous. It took Dele Alli two seconds to remind the world why he’s one of Europe’s biggest talents.
His second, a much scrappier goal, showed the other side of the former MK Dons midfielder. For anyone unfamiliar with the 21-year-old before the match, his double against Chelsea would’ve painted the perfect picture. His brilliance is matched by his tenacity. He doesn’t coast on talent alone, instead grafting in an attempt to better himself.
Alli hasn’t been able to replicate last season’s achievements and there have been question marks over whether he should even be considered a starter in Mauricio Pochettino‘s side on form alone.
The Tottenham Hotspur boss was complimentary of his No.20 after Sunday’s win against their top-four rivals, saying: “It’s been a tough period for him, but I like his talent, his character.
“I’m so happy for him because he deserved it. In the end, he’s a great talent, only 21 years old, and sometimes we lose the focus on that. He’s only 21. Sometimes the expectation is too much.”
The English media have a history of burdening young stars with too much expectation. It snowballs and, unless the player is reaching Lionel Messi heights, they’re deemed a failure.
Alli’s brace at Stamford Bridge took his goal return for the season to eight, one shy of the nine assists he’s managed. He’s been involved in a Premier League goal every 150 minutes.
For context, last season, when the Young Player of the Year managed 18 top-flight strikes, he was involving himself in a goal every 122 minutes. Furthermore, this time around he’s averaging fewer shots and he already has more assists to his name, almost as though he’s more of a creator these days.
His overall contribution may have waned but to suggest Alli was underperforming was wide of the mark. He’s still better than most midfielders in England’s top flight.
Goals and assists might be the be all and end all for some, but clubs will be more concerned about sustainability. In terms of xG90 (expected goals per 90) and xA90 (expected goals assisted per 90), Alli’s having his most productive season to date.
What makes Alli so special is that, even though his performances have been inconsistent – as you’d expect from a midfielder honing his craft – his output in goals and assists has been stable.
In terms of xG90 over the past three seasons, his average has been 0.35 while his actual goals per 90 total comes in at 0.39. Similarly, his xA90 average over this period is 0.22 and he’s averaging 0.28. Even though he’s outperforming his expected totals it’s not by much meaning his form is sustainable.
His goal involvement works out at a goal or an assist every 134 minutes since the start of the 2015/16 season. When looking at running averages, this season’s totals paint quite the picture and it’s not one of a player who shouldn’t be going to the World Cup.
As alluded to earlier, Alli’s xG+xA90 average has improved year on year. It shows he’s developing as a player and becoming more intelligent in his play, as well as becoming more of a pivotal player for Spurs.
Christian Eriksen is often lauded as the man pulling the strings for Pochettino’s side. But in terms of actual numbers as well as expected ones, former MK Dons youngster Alli is the player contributing more in terms of quantifiable output.
And he isn’t just padding those stats against the inferior teams. Of his 36 goals in the Premier League, ten have arrived against teams vying with Spurs for a place in the top four.
The 21-year-old has found the back of the net against Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea. He’s not just a reliable goal threat, he’s genuinely a big-game player with the mentality of a winner. It’s not something usually associated with English players. But there’s a reason Alli is described by some as a generational talent.
He’s going to improve but only if he’s allowed to make mistakes. Inconsistency will plague him for the next few years, as it does with most players under the age of 24. If Alli’s given an environment to flourish then who knows what sort of player Spurs will have on their hands down the line.