It was just over a month ago when Tottenham Hotspur lost away at Liverpool and the entire footballing world was talking about Dele Alli, for all the wrong reasons.
Alli’s meteoric rise had stagnated. Not only did he not grow, but his performance levels also kept dropping. He did not score or assist like he used to, neither did he make the often destructive runs into the opposition box or press as intensely as previously. His enigma had gone.
But there was a reason for the goal numbers to drop. First things first, injuries. The 23-year-old has succumbed to more than a few injuries in the last 18 months. So did the Spurs engine room in general. As a result, Alli had to drop to a deeper midfield position and focus more on the first two-thirds of the game, not just the final third.
But Alli looked to have lost that edge or that fearlessness that kids have on the football field. He would come short, dart in behind or just get on the end of crosses to score; it all looked instinctive in Alli’s case.
The Spurs #20 was never the best passer or creator; that was Christian Eriksen. But, Alli was always effective and efficient. What made him special was his intense pressing, intelligent on and off the ball movement and, most importantly, his knack of scoring goals.
But that kid was lost. So lost that new Spurs manager, Jose Mourinho, had to ask Alli if it was really him playing or was it his brother.
All it needed was that. The vigour and intensity were visible from minute one at the London Stadium. Alli was playing the classic #10 role, just off Harry Kane. He was in the pocket between the West Ham midfield and defence, causing havoc.
He assisted the first goal and was crucial in the build up to the second. Against Olympiakos, he scored on the brink of half-time to bring his team back into the game. The ex-MK Dons player then capped off a brilliant and eventful week with a brace against Bournemouth at White Hart Lane.
Mourinho has simplified his role, asking Alli to rediscover the link-up and understanding with Kane which terrorised opponents. The magic has been rediscovered.
When Kane drops off, Alli darts in behind and vice-versa. The movement of the wingers – Heung Min Son, Lucas Moura and Mousa Sissoko has helped as well. Defences are confused as to who to mark, push up or drop off. Alli is precisely the reason for the tandem, given his free role. The enigma and aura are back.
It should not come as a surprise either. A player with the talent and mentality of Alli could not be in hiding for too long. It simply would not match the on-field persona of an aggressive, free-scoring raumdeuter.
Also, a manager like Mourinho makes a big difference having overseen the peaks of some of the best attacking midfielders – Deco, Frank Lampard, Wesley Sneijder, Mesut Ozil, Oscar and even Jesse Lingard at Manchester United.
Alli, Mourinho and Spurs now brace themselves for the busiest and probably most important month of the season. December will truly make or break Spurs’ top-four ambitions, with two big games against Man United and Chelsea looming.
Alli has a say in most of Spurs’ matches, even more so when he is on song, as he is right now…