Despite early promise, Dele Alli has struggled for game time since Jose Mourinho has occupied Tottenham Hotspur’s managerial position, leaving the England international pondering whether his Spurs career is over. Sam Broad looks into the downfall of the attacking midfielder and what the future could hold.
Why has Dele Alli not been playing frequently?
Like any manager, Jose Mourinho has his favoured players suitable for his ideal philosophy, intending to make Tottenham a more successful club. Mourinho has a reputation where there is the expectancy that certain players will be harshly treated and critiqued.
Although there is evidence to suggest this is true, the size of Premier League squads means there are always going to be quality players left brooding on the substitutes bench. Dele Alli doesn’t seem to have been treated unfairly by Mourinho, it should be expected that a top manager can leave a player out of the team without fracturing the relationship.
If Mourinho were to pick his Tottenham starting line up purely based on form, it is unlikely that Alli features. In fact, he would struggle to break into most Premier League teams that are pushing for Champions League football. Dele Alli has been going through a bad slump of form. Towards the end of Mauricio Pochettino’s reign, the midfielder looked a shadow of his former self that burst onto the Premier League scene during the 2015/16 season.
Pochettino’s downfall occurred because he remained loyal to the core group of players who had been at the club for several years. It appears many of the players grew too comfortable with life at Tottenham, causing the mounting progress to eventually thistle out.
Mourinho had the advantage of arriving at Tottenham, having no preconceived attachments to the longest-serving players. This is mirrored by his team selection, with a preference to utilise midfielders such as Giovani Lo Celso and Tanguy Ndombele instead of Dele Alli. This is likely because Alli operates most effectively situated just behind the striker, whereas his replacements display a range of qualities that allow them to play deeper into the midfield.
The style of tactics used in the Premier League has also developed since Dele Alli’s arrival at Tottenham. Players that solely unpick defences from between the lines aren’t the star players like they once were. In today’s game, we often expect the top midfielders to drive the ball forward into the attacking third, while releasing the ball to a forward player in a dangerous area.
Dele Alli is too one dimensional in his role as a second striker, especially since Harry Kane has proven he possesses a fine creative calibre when dropping deep, and remaining an ongoing goal-scoring threat. When Kane drops deep, he is usually searching for the runs of fast-paced attackers such as Son Heung-min, Lucas Moura, and Thomas Bergwijn.
Alongside the signing of Gareth Bale, the thriving relationship between Kane and Son shows Mourinho’s intent on playing with fast-paced forwards who can contribute effectively to a counter-attacking style.
Tottenham’s high-ranking place in the Premier League table suggests that Mourinho’s adaptation of his attacking lineup is working productively. This leaves no place for Dele Alli, who doesn’t have the blistering pace or the instinctive creative ability to flourish in Mourinho’s modern play style.
How can Dele Alli get back into the first team?
Providing Tottenham remain in the Europa League, Dele Alli will probably pick up most of his game time playing European football. However, Jose Mourinho has already shown his ruthless nature by making many substitutes at halftime when the game plan is not being orchestrated effectively.
Alli will be expected to earn his game time when he is chosen to feature in the team. Although, positions in Tottenham’s Europa League squad will soon become highly competitive as the tournament evolves. The Europa League appears to be more important than ever for Tottenham. There is a growing demand for a trophy by the fans, and a direct path back to Champions League football. Winning the Europa League remains a viable option now that there is no guarantee of finishing inside the Premier League top four.
Beyond Alli’s occasional appearances in cup competitions, a direct route back into contention for the Premier League side would be to provide more value as a player. At 24, Dele Alli still has plenty of time to develop his game to fit into Mourinho’s style of play, this may include featuring solely as a striker. He has shown impressive quality with his finishing inside the box and would make a good backup option for Harry Kane.
However, adapting his position would mean additional hard work on the training ground, to even be considered as an alternative to inform striker Kane. An easier, but more drawn-out process is waiting for the manager to leave. However, with Tottenham showing signs of improvement under Mourinho, this is unlikely to occur in the foreseeable future. If Alli makes no progress on his poor run of form, then he’s proving himself to be unreliable for any new manager that arrives at Tottenham.
Does Dele Alli need to leave Tottenham?
Mourinho singled out Ndombele soon after his arrival. The midfielder changed his fortune by working harder and proving his worth to the new manager. While this is possible for Alli to do, he isn’t settling into a new league like Ndombele was when he was under criticism from Mourinho.
The longer Alli is left out of Tottenham’s starting line-up, the less likely it appears that Mourinho will trust him to operate effectively as part of the game plan, especially if the results continue to improve. There is the possibility that Dele Alli need not leave Tottenham through injuries to players in a similar position to his. However, it is doubtful that Mourinho will demand the attacking midfielder’s presence, as his system doesn’t seem to require a player of Alli’s position.
Dele Alli would be best suited to leave Tottenham in January. A loan move to a club in Europe would allow him to recapture his form. Away from the Premier League spotlight, he won’t be overshadowed by the expectations for him to reproduce the high standard of form he displayed in his first couple of seasons at Tottenham. Alli would also get the chance to learn a distinct style of football, making himself a more valuable player upon his return to Tottenham Hotspur.
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