A year can make a big difference in football. During Tottenham’s opening Premier League game last season, Dele Alli was subbed at half time and heavily criticised for his performance. 12 months on and the England international played a key role in Tottenham’s opening day win over Manchester City.
It never felt like a good fit for Alli under Mourinho. The previous manager liked to have players that could carry out a defined role and he didn’t manage to get the best out of the midfielder. Many consider the 25-year-old to be a mercurial talent, who needs a team to be built around him. There are doubts about his ability to carry out tactical instructions. Meanwhile, Mourinho criticised his application on more than one occasion.
In the last decade, Mourinho has found his levels of success decreasing in each job he takes. He continues to ostracise players, but it is no longer seen as terminal for their career at a certain club. This is due to the short time that the Portuguese manager spends in each post. Luke Shaw has emerged as one of the world’s best left backs since being regularly criticised by Mourinho during their time together at Old Trafford. Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba are another two players to show improvement.
Nuno Espirito Santo will be hoping that he can help Alli get back to the levels that he is capable of reaching. During his first two seasons with Tottenham, the midfielder managed to score 28 Premier League goals. Further to his goal-scoring, Alli contributed 16 assists. It was thought that he would develop into one of the best players in the league.
There were links to Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Barcelona. For a period, Alli was thought to have a higher ceiling than Harry Kane. However, his career has stalled during the last two years. One reason for that was the departure of Mauricio Pochettino. In the last two seasons, the former MK Dons man has contributed just five goals and four assists in the Premier League.
Last season, he played just 619 minutes in the Premier League and failed to score once. Alli will have been sat at home watching England’s excellent run to the Euro 2020 final wondering where it had gone wrong for him. He had been a starter at the previous tournament in 2018.
The change of manager has come at the right time for Alli. Nuno has quickly taken to him and decided to name him in the team to face Manchester City. It was a different role, as he was used as a box-to-box midfielder.
Alli thrived and played a key role in helping Tottenham beat the current Premier League champions. He completed three tackles and made three clearances to help his team keep a clean sheet.
Tottenham fans will have been most impressed by his work rate and aggression in central areas. In the past, his defensive ability has been doubted, but he showed why Nuno trusted him as part of the midfield three. Although he didn’t manage to threaten in attack, everyone knows that he can score goals.
In the coming weeks, he is likely to be given license to roam and join attacks, as the most advanced of the midfield three. Alli needed to play with the hand brake on against Manchester City, but he won’t need to against the weaker teams.
This feels like a big season for Alli. At the age of 25, he needs to reignite his career and re-establish himself as a key player for Tottenham.
Stats taken from Whoscored