If Southgate was looking for a response from Dele Alli – after the midfielder was dropped out of the latest England squad, then he bloody got one on Sunday.
Dele Alli has been having a mixed season for Spurs this year. In a rather eventful campaign so far that includes suspensions, diving incidents and the odd viral video or two. His performances have dropped relative to the high standards he had set for himself since stepping in for Spurs as a regular first team member of the squad.
Those standards he set in 2016/17 were so high that in a season where he could still end up getting double figures in goals and assists in the Premier League (8 goals and 9 assists so far) could be considered less than impressive.
After getting 23 goals last season – a remarkable figure for a midfielder in the Premier League, Alli was generally regarded as one of the best players in the world for his age – if not ‘the best’, although a credible argument could be put forward to suggest he could well be. Twelve months later, there has been very little to suggest otherwise, Alli’s exclusion from the England squad by Gareth Southgate shows the improvement of another player who shares quite a few similarities with the Milton Keynes born Alli.
Jesse Lingard has been one of the most important players for Manchester United under Mourinho this season. And that is quite a leap from the slender prospect from Warrington who was shipped out on loan to four different clubs in his late teens and early 20s – all in a division below the top flight.
Much like Dele Alli who sprung out of nowhere to turn up week in week out for Spurs – performing in big games like it was second nature, Lingard pretty much burst into the scene under Louis van Gaal in the cup games albeit later than it is the case for most footballers with plenty of potential. This culminated in playing a key role in United’s standout moment in that season, scoring at Wembley to ensure United won their then joint record 12th FA Cup at the capital.
This season, however, has been the true breakout campaign for the now 25-year old. Fast approaching his prime, there has been an awakening under Jose Mourinho which can be attributed to two things: One being Lingard’s own resilient mental framework forged in all those loan spells outside of home comforts and the other will be the manager.
The Portuguese rewarding the youngster with a string of opportunities in his favoured position – just behind the number 10 has certainly helped the cause. Lingard has proved to be dangerous in the way he can thread simple but effective little balls out wide and to the striker as well as dart into the box to provide the final touch – which he has, on several vital occasions this season. The third goal at the Emirates is a fine specimen of how responsive he can be to the course of the game.
One more striking and possibly the most significant similarity between the two players is how often they pop up with an important goal or assist in the biggest of games. One cannot have enough clutch players in any side, for Alli and Lingard to have made it a habit to contribute effectively in important moments of the season – is commendable and good news for Southgate who will need match winners in the final third if he was to have any chance of enjoying some success in Russia.
Alli’s double at Stamford Bridge at the weekend, influencing a momentous result in the favour of Spurs, in the absence of Harry Kane is testament to the player’s mental fortitude while Lingard’s goals in the cup finals for United and winners against Arsenal, Chelsea at home – all coming at times when the side needed getting out of jail shows the player’s tendency to perform when it counts. With both likely vying for the same spot in the starting eleven – ‘in the hole’ – I would go as far to say getting the best out of both in the Summer prove to be that driving force that will propel England further than the last sixteen.
Southgate has been handed one more puzzle with regard to the England squad selection but this time it is one that he would love to solve.