When such a promising offensive talent like Dele Alli doesn’t deliver a goal, an assist or even create a chance in a 3-0 win over a divisional rival, the immediate assumption is that they endured an underwhelming ninety minutes. After all, what else is there to judge attacking midfielders on than their output, especially on the big occasions?
But despite failing to register in any of those three categories against Manchester United on Monday night, and even missing a glorious chance to score when Victor Lindelof mistakenly played him through on David De Gea, the England international will have left the pitch with his head held high, feeling he’d still made important contributions to a result that feels like something of a sea-change for Tottenham; winning at Old Trafford isn’t common for the north London club, just as beating big six rivals away from home isn’t a recurring theme of Mauricio Pochettino’s time in England.
After all, Alli made the most tackles and joint-most interceptions of any player on the pitch, and that ball-winning ability proved crucial to not only Tottenham’s game-plan of hitting United with incisive breaks but also the structure of Spurs’ midfield.
With Lucas Moura acting more like a strike-partner for Harry Kane, Tottenham’s engine room needed to match United’s four-man midfield while providing protection from wing-backs Antonio Valencia and Luke Shaw.
That’s what Alli offered and although his sharpness in the final third left something to be desired compared to the standards of recent seasons, his doggedness in breaking up United’s attempts to push forward was an important part of a big win for Tottenham. It also dispels the idea of Alli – who Transfermarkt value at £90million – being a selfish, individualistic or inconsistent player; he worked as hard as anybody else at Old Trafford and found a way to benefit his team even though he didn’t play particularly well.
It’s a different side to Alli’s game, but an important one nonetheless that Pochettino will need to call on again this season if Tottenham are to continue getting good results on the road against big six opposition.