The number 20. Not particularly significant in it’s own right you might say. The top number on a dart-board perhaps? Or maybe the amount of overs per side in the most shortened form of cricket? Or of course, the number of teams in the Premier League.
But now the number 20 may have a new reason for significance. Make that two reasons – namely Ross Barkley and Dele Alli, two young English midfielders doing some wonderful things in the Premier League this season, and both wearing the no.20 shirt – for Everton and Spurs respectively.
Both have had a supreme impact for their respective sides this season, chipping in with goals, assists and some generally excellent all-round performances. Both are young, promising Englishmen in and around the national side, but which one is better?
Both rising through the ranks at their respective hometown clubs, Barkley is a few years older than the Tottenham starlet at 22, with Alli just 19. Thus, the scouser has a slight edge when it comes to experience and is now in his third full season of Premier League football. Alli, though, has a similar amount of full-season experience, although two of those campaigns have come in the slightly less pressurised environment of League One with MK Dons.
It is his impact in the Spurs side this season that interests most, however, and allows for a fairer comparison with Barkley. Alli’s role in this impressive looking Tottenham side has appeared quickly, with the shift to the ‘No.10’ role implemented by his manager really seeing his talents come to the fore. Seven league goals and four assists, at time of writing, are testament to a teenager already extremely comfortable in both his own ability and his role in the side.
Barkley though has slightly better stats for the season. Two penalties in the recent game against Newcastle take him to eight for the season, plus three in the cup competitions. He also has seven assists in his 24 games.
Clearly then, both players have tremendous vision and the goalscoring touch, particularly for their tender years, but far more than just adding numbers to the stat-sheets, both possess a youthful energy and drive that’s vital to both the blue of Everton and white of Tottenham.
Barkley has a particular knack of picking the ball up near the centre circle and then surging past players with ease, creating space for both himself and others and helping to move the Toffees into the attacking third of the pitch. Whether releasing a long range shot on goal or playing balls through to runners, his quick feet, ‘footballing brain’ and technical ability are clearly warmly appreciated by both the supporters and his team-mates.
Alli has similar strength and poise, but displays his talents in a different way, his positional awareness and run-timing often mean he is in the ‘right place at the right time’ and has more of a calmness to his play. One of the frequent comments you hear regarding Alli is that he appears to possess an old-head on young shoulders, remaining cool in possession and calm under pressure.
Indeed, this might be where the lad from Milton Keynes gains the edge over his counterpart. While few can doubt the natural flair and ability of Ross Barkley, he can at times pick the wrong pass, try too much or lose concentration. More of a ‘bruiser’ compared to the serenity of Alli’s play, the young Evertonian still has mental development to make whilst, somewhat remarkably, Alli already appears to have the poise of an experienced Premier League pro.
It’s obvious then that both youngsters have tremendous talent and have both risen to become integral to their teams’ performances this season. Both should have stellar careers ahead of them for club and country although they may find themselves vying for the same position in the England side in the future. Alli’s versatility in this aspect may again tip the scales slightly in his favour, but there really is very little to choose between them.
Should Roy Hodgson – or other England managers down the line – manage to fit them both into the same side, it could hold England in good stead for years to come. Their respective club managers too will play important roles in their development, Pochettino arguably the better man to guide Alli as opposed to the ‘just let him play’ philosophy of Martinez.
If push came to shove, I’d probably edge with the younger man, but it really would be a tough choice. It depends what kind of impact you’re looking for. Barkley’s more mercurial talents are likely to unlock defences with a flash of brilliance and possibly win you games more often, but the undeniable all-round offering of Alli, coupled with similar ability, lend themselves to a more complete footballer, even with three fewer years on the clock.
Now if someone could just combine the two…