Dele Alli just hasn’t quite been himself this season – or at least, until last night when he produced a dazzling display against European champions Real Madrid that brought back the form of the tail-end of 2016/17 and reminded us all why he’s the most exciting young talent in English football.
It must be said that Zinedine Zidane’s side are struggling to replicate the standards of the last two seasons but that shouldn’t discredit a sensational performance from Tottenham that saw Mauricio Pochettino’s game-plan work perfectly and the Lilywhites’ most devastating players deliver in attack – most notably Alli.
Indeed, the England international opened the scoring with a poacher’s finish from a Kieran Trippier cross and then sealed the brace with a speculative shot that deflected past a helpless Kiko Casilla in the second half. In fact, the attacking midfielder was unlucky not to make it three, but his performance was by no means limited to just finding the net.
He wriggled through Real Madrid’s defensive ranks with five dribbles, drew two fouls and created one chance for his team-mate in an impressive attacking display, but it was the 21-year-old’s overall energy and involvement that stood out most in comparison to recent weeks, receiving the second-most touches of the ball of any Spurs player and ranking first throughout the team for both tackles and fouls with four apiece.
In stark contrast, Alli’s made just 11 tackles and committed only 13 fouls in the Premier League all season and while you would naturally expect those returns to be a little higher against a team of Real Madrid’s quality, it shows the biggest problem the 22-cap international faces is motivation. While his impact has been notably limited against teams like Swansea, Bournemouth and Huddersfield this season compared to the standards we’re used to, Alli brought his best form to Wembley last night knowing the world would be watching.
Once again, to some extent that’s an inevitability considering it was arguably the biggest night in Tottenham’s recent history. But if Alli is to become the world-class player many expect him to, those performance levels need to be replicated in every game, regardless of the quality of the opposition. Pochettino’s biggest challenge with the young midfielder is keeping him motivated when Tottenham aren’t taking on such glamorous opponents and not relying on sheer talent to pull him through.