Player Zone: Dele Alli continues to struggle at Tottenham Hotspur

Dele Alli is struggling at Tottenham Hotspur.

Signed for £5million from MK Dons in 2015, Alli has emerged as a star under manager Mauricio Pochettino. He has already made 180 appearances for the club, scoring 53 goals and laying on 47 assists. He has been involved in a century of goals in north London, at a rate of more than one every other game.

The 23-year-old, then, is perhaps burning out.

He has not had a decent rest in two seasons; following the end of the 2017-18 campaign, he played a key role in England’s run to the World Cup semi-finals, playing five times, including 120 minutes in the last-four defeat to Croatia.

It is unsurprising that he has endured a number of injury issues in 2018-19. Hamstring trouble saw him miss four games between September and October, while he was also absent for six games between January and February with a thigh muscle strain.

On both occasions, Alli was thrown straight back into the fray upon his recovery.

In recent outings, against Manchester City, Brighton & Hove Albion and West Ham United in the Premier League and City and Ajax in the Champions League, he has clearly been half-fit.

Versus Ajax, per WhoScored, Alli completed one dribble and was dispossessed once, while he also failed to make a single tackle or clearance; he was also dribbled past once.

The sad fact is that this was perhaps his best game in recent weeks.

Against West Ham, in the club’s first defeat at their new stadium, he again, per WhoScored, failed to make a tackle, was dispossessed twice and had one shot on goal, which did not even trouble Lukasz Fabianski.

The crux of the issue, of course, is that Spurs simply do not have the squad depth to cover for him. In the first leg against Ajax, with Moussa Sissoko deemed not fit enough to start the game, the only other option past Alli was Oliver Skipp, an 18-year-old.

Skipp is not yet trusted to play in such games and with good reason.

But the main problem is that Alli is being asked to play in an unfamiliar role. He is, after all, a player who defies categorisation. He does not really play as a central midfielder because his talents lie in breaking down defences, while he also struggles in attacking midfield, because of the need to drop deep and link play.

In fact, his best season for Spurs came in 2016-17 when he was regularly deployed as a secondary striker, behind Harry Kane, or on the left flank, being allowed to drift infield. He scored 22 goals in all competitions that season and also laid on 13 assists. This was a player finally carving out his niche and avoiding defenders at all costs.

The following season, having built up such a trust from Pochettino, he played 50 games in all competitions. He scored 14 goals, laid on 17 assists, went to the World Cup and was instantly thrown back into the fray this term. Due to injuries and perhaps an understandable loss of form, he has contributed to just 13 goals this season.

This is a major issue for Pochettino, particularly as doubts continue to linger over the future of Christian Eriksen, linked with a move to Real Madrid.

Alli is the player best suited to replacing Eriksen in the XI if no direct replacement is bought with the money potentially recouped from the Dane’s sale.

But, as it stands, he simply doesn’t have the form or, seemingly, the motivation to do so.

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