Four years ago, Dele Alli scored his first Spurs goal away at Leicester. On Saturday, he returns to the King Power with a point to prove.
That goal in 2015 was typical Alli. A cross from the edge of the area by Nacer Chadli and an emphatic back-post header from the midfielder. It’s quickly become his trademark finish.
I think about that game at Leicester quite a lot if truth be told. Not only because it was two points dropped against a lesser side, but it transpired to be a point in the Foxes’ favour in eventually winning the league, and two dropped in our chase of that prize.
Who knew that at the time Riyad Mahrez’s fourth goal of the season would be his fourth of 17? Who knew that Claudio Ranieri’s side leapfrogging Manchester United after that result would be permanent? And who knew that a goal from 19-year-old Dele Alli would be the first of many?
Since then, his progress has been difficult to measure on paper, although coming from Alli himself, he believes other aspects of his game have improved.
“I haven’t scored as many goals or got as many assists, but other parts of my game and the other side of my game, defensively, in possession, not just getting on the end of things and finishing chances, I think I’ve improved on that.”
And it’s hard not to disagree. Particularly in the latter stages of our Champions League run last season, he really stepped up in the deep-lying playmaker role – the performance at Ajax the best example of that to date.
So why has the buzz died down? Why don’t people get excited about Dele Alli anymore? In short, injuries.
Now 23, he has been incredibly unlucky with injuries during his time at Spurs. The midfielder has been sidelined for 25 games in two years, with 12 down to a hamstring issue alone.
Last campaign was the first time he sustained muscle injuries in his career, and for anyone who has experienced a similar setback, it’s quite a difficult hurdle to leap.
For a player of his age, that is a big chunk of your early career out and with the same problems rearing their head repeatedly and it may be something that troubles him for his entire career.
But let’s not forget just what he’s achieved so far.
Live on talkSPORT
Check out all the live commentaries coming up across the talkSPORT network this week
- Leicester vs Tottenham (Saturday, 12:30pm) – talkSPORT
- Leeds vs Derby (Saturday, 12:30pm) – talkSPORT 2
- Everton vs Sheffield United (Saturday, 3pm) – talkSPORT 2
- Newcastle vs Brighton (Saturday, 5:30pm) – talkSPORT
- West Brom vs Huddersfield (Sunday, 12pm) – talkSPORT 2
He has scored 42 Premier League goals, 19 more than Frank Lampard achieved at the same age. The Chelsea gaffer didn’t hit double figures in the league until he was 25.
At the age of 22, Alli had 64 goals and assists in the top flight, more than Paul Scholes (18), Steven Gerrard (13), and *coughs* Jack Wilshere (8).
Better yet, his achievements extend beyond club duties, with his goal against Sweden sending England to the World Cup semi-finals last summer.
He’s a big game player and has shown that time and time again. Whether a double at Stamford Bridge to give Spurs their first victory at Chelsea for 28 years, or a brace in the Champions League against holders Real Madrid, the man lives for the big stage.
It does frustrate me the amount of stick he gets.
A young English talent who has broken so many records it’s astonishing. People love to hate Spurs and he embodies that. The best thing about it is, he thrives on it.
People have particularly short memories. Let’s not forget that last November he was considered the world’s most expensive midfielder by the CIES. He’s not finished yet, not by a long stretch.
This weekend will be a real test for Mauricio Pochettino and his players. The games are coming thick and fast with squad rotation a real necessity.
A win at the King Power would certainly set them on a path to finishing in the top four again, and having scored there last season, I fully expect Alli to get amongst the action in the place that started this amazing journey for him four years ago.
Saturday is GameDay on talkSPORT and talkSPORT 2 as we bring you LIVE commentary of Premier League games across all three time slots, beginning with Leicester vs Tottenham at 12.30pm on 21 September.