Dele Alli has started 94 Premier League matches across the last three seasons. He has scored 34 goals and assisted 25 in that period. Few players rank higher in goal contribution than the England international since his arrival at Tottenham.
Alli is still 21-years-old. Something that is so often forgotten, but understandably given his performances.
Some Premier League clubs barely give players of Alli’s age minutes. Not out of bitterness for the youth, simply that they do not warrant it. Inconsistency is an expectation rather than a flaw at this age.
There’s no question the former MK Dons man deserves his place as a lynchpin for Spurs and England. Although there are many question marks about England’s line-up heading to Russia this summer, Alli is one of a few players who should be certain starters. That, again, speaks volumes for his performance levels.
His role has altered a little this season, however. Alli has become a creator primarily rather than second striker. Last season he had 0.43 xG per 90, this season it has returned to the 0.3 of his first season with Spurs. His key passes per 90 (2.15) and xA per 90 (0.29) are both at career highs.
This change is partly down to the presence of Heung-min Son. The South Korean has been phenomenal this season, carrying the goal scoring burden that Alli did last season and operating in the closest role to Kane.
Alli is dropping deeper into midfield than he did in 2016/17.
Spurs’ injuries to their midfield options have contributed to this, meaning Alli is required to do more defensively than he had to last season, while also aiding in the earlier build-up phase. Rather than this resulting in a lesser version of the England international, it has enhanced his skillset, and shown us more of the Alli we all expected when Spurs first signed him.
Players who can adapt like that are invaluable. The ability to change shape with the click of Mauricio Pochettino’s fingers is the key to much of what Tottenham do. Alli is not alone in being able to adjust like that, but it is a further sign of his value.
The simulation and his clearly fiery temper has attracted excessive attention. It has reached the point of witch hunt, and Alli is now condemned or mocked for everything he does on the pitch. How Alli should be treated is a conversation for a different time, but it has clouded the perception of Dele Alli the footballer.
Even in his slightly deeper role, only 19 Premier League players (of those with over 1000 minutes) have a higher NPxG90+xA90 than Alli’s 0.59. Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Christian Eriksen and Mesut Ozil all rank lower.
Alli is on course to score fewer than in either of his previous Premier League seasons. That is not to say the negative headlines are warranted. If anything, it is a testament to the high standards set, but too shows the misunderstanding of what he is doing in 2017/18.
He is a different player, but by no means a worse one.
Written by Sam Cox
Follow Sam on Twitter @SamRCox_
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