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Dele Alli: Iconoclast of a modern English midfielder

Written by: Punit Tripathi

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The Spurs star has been the hottest English prospect for two years now and recently bettered Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and David Beckham combined in an important statistic. . .

26th August 2014 was a forgettable day in Manchester United’s history. In a period of transformation, Louis Van Gaal was appointed the Manchester United manager and in 50 days’ time, he had broken the British transfer window, signing Angel Di Maria from Real Madrid on the same day. Even then, something of a free-fall unfolded on the pitch as the Red Devils were ousted from the Capital One Cup at the hands of League One minnows MK Dons, who drubbed United 4-0.

As Will Grigg and Benik Afobe romped to individual braces, one man on the pitch, at just 18, stole all the limelight. Will Grigg, today, is a striker at Wigan Athletic while Afobe has done a little better to be signed by Bournemouth. On the other hand, Dele Alli, the prodigious talent who outplayed Anderson, Shinji Kagawa and highly-rated Nick Powell in the opposition midfield, has moved on to glorious pastures, leading an Premier League side to the second of the league table and the only team which look to be a challenge to Chelsea’s already marauding run.

Alli backs his immaculate footballing brain with his hard work on the training pitch.

In 2015, Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino saw that raw talent and brought him to White Hart Lane, managing the coup at £5 million. Pochettino has a flair for youth and has helped Alli to grow into the magnanimous nebula he has turned into. Let us tell you why:

TACTICAL ANALYSIS

Dele Alli is probably the most talented midfielder England has produced ever since Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard and tops the list which includes Ros Barkley, Adam Lallana and Tom Cleverly. It is Alli’s innate intelligence which has seen him become one of the most talked-about young attackers in the world, with Real Madrid reportedly readying a three-digit sum for his transfer.

Alli manages to find space behind defences and his runs into the box are perfectly timed

Alli is adept at various roles in the midfield. From Week 1-12 this Premier League season, Alli played in the double pivot with Eric Dier in a 4-2-3-1 behind Son, Eriksen and Lamela. In this role, Alli displayed immaculate concentration and tactical brilliance to accommodate the wandering Jan Vertonghen and free-wheeling Toby Alderweireld enough space to bomb forward whenever they wanted to, resisting the temptation to move ahead at every given opportunity, covering a lot of space left over with Dier.

Alli showed his maturity in positioning and quality in taking the ball out of defence on various occasions. In a game against Crystal Palace, the midfielder made 9 tackles, three clearances and five interceptions, which is overwhelming return from a lad just 20. Come November and the return of key cog Moussa Dembele, Pochettino found a new and more effective way of using the No. 20.

Pochettino gave the midfielder a free role and Alli gave him a more direct, attacking outlet. The 21-year-old who celebrates his birthday on 11th April gave Spurs a direct vertical threat, as all other attacking midfielders in the Tottenham squad have a tendency to drift wide, namely: Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen and Heung-Min Son. These players love a little bit of extra space to operate and enough time on the first touch to try and create things, which for Alli, is inconsequential.

Harry Kane provides Dele Alli enough space to flourish and express himself, something Alli wouldn't have had playing beside a Cristiano Ronaldo

The youngster possesses superb vision and always seems to finds space on the pitch. In the free role, he flourished beyond imagination. Dembele’s confidence resembles Zidane’s ability to back him in difficult situations. He finds space just behind defences comfortably, which makes him very effective as the No. 10 or second striker.

Alli is a metamorphosis of various English midfielders over the years. He possesses the ability to operate deep in the opposition half and carry the ball out of defence like Liverpool’s former captain Steven Gerrard. Playing at No. 10, Alli resembles a certain Frank Lampard, given his ability to find passes with deft touches and the final ball with consummate ease. The former MK Dons player also possesses Adam Lallana’s ability to time his run into the box to perfection and has scored some key goals with this virtue.

Alli is similar to Spanish wizard Andres Iniesta in terms of finding space, and will only get better with age. The midfielder finds huge gaps in the opposition box and always manages to sneak in behind the defensive line, which makes him brutal as the second striker. Alli’s gameplay looks very similar to Wayne Rooney of Sir Alex Ferguson’s time when he played as the second striker behind Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez and yet scored 34 goals a season. Operating within a fluid system, Alli has the freedom to sway beyond Kane on the pitch, which stretches the opposition line and helps to create space for both Kane and Alli.

The ability to run in channels is also imminent, which reduces the pressure on Eriksen, Son, Lamela and Dembele on that extra free defender. If the timing and the execution are right, which is the case more often than not, the team is set free on the opposition goal with a good chance of scoring. In Harry Kane, Pochettino has one of the more capable finishers in the country who can feed off the No. 10 or can even play hold-up and link-up play with ease in the opposition half.

STATISTICAL ANALYSIS

For a 19 year old, Dele Alli’s statistics were quixotic, to be honest, last season. Alli made 33 appearances in the Premier League last season, scoring 10 goals and making nine assists. The midfielder took 74 shots in total, hitting the woodwork three times, also playing 18 successful through balls in the final third. His discipline is clear from the fact that 75% of his 71 tackles were successful, and Alli made 175 recoveries and 61 interceptions in his game time.

Dele Alli has scored against Chelsea and Manchester City and is easily one of the better finishers in the Premier League currently

This season, he has whirl-winded his way to even better glories. Dele Alli has played 42 times (until the 4-0 victory over Watford) for his team this season in all competitions, scoring 19 times and assisting a further 10 goals. The player has shown growth in his maturity, getting just five yellow cards this season so far. The temperamental player had earned 10 yellow in lesser games last season.

Even though we feel comparing different time horizons is meaningless, but the fact that Dele Alli was involved in 40 goals before turning 21 – the combined total of Lampard (15), Gerrard (13) and David Beckham (12) – is a true testament to his abilities. Alli never runs like a Gareth Bale or even Andros Townsend, he just moves throughout the pitch, covers a lot of space and is highly effective both tactically and statistically, evident from these facts.

Impressively, Alli is better than the last great youngster who made it big in world football before he was 21 – Cristiano Ronaldo. Alli has already scored more league goals (16) than any other U-21 player in the top five leagues in the world.

CONCLUSION

Make no mistake; Dele Alli is not a one-man wonder who has the ability to do things on his own. He’s playing in a system so suited to his style that it looks so effortless, even when it is painstakingly effective. The presence of Dembele, for one, is very important to take off pressure from him to carry the ball out of defences and providing a physical presence in the middle of the park.

Alongside Marco Asensio, Isco and Martin Odegaard, Dele Alli can form one of the deadliest young attacking pillars in World football

Son, Eriksen and Lamela are three very talented players, and the team’s selflessness to feed off each other is helping them to a better finish than Arsenal for the first time in 21 years. The London-based side has been the best in the league since August 2015, garnering 138 points from 69 games, scoring 133 goals and conceding just 57. Spurs ended the last season at the third spot only at the final stages, which proves that the good work has continued and they’re a team which are ready to challenge the perennial heavyweights of Premier League.

Reports of Real Madrid planning to whoop him in with a three-digit bid are all over the net, and they’re not wrong. Alli will be right under the masthead, under the best from the last generation and under the man he’s closest to in resemblance, Zinedine Zidane.

Published: Thu Apr 13, 2017 03:41 PM IST

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