One of Jose Mourinho’s top priorities when he became Tottenham boss was to bring back the “real Dele Alli”. But he is still waiting for the midfielder to rediscover his best form.
The England international, who has the prized ability to unlock defences, has played just 45 minutes of football this season and his future at Spurs is in doubt.
Alli was substituted at half-time during the defeat against Everton in his side’s Premier League opener and did not travel to Bulgaria for a Europa League qualifier against Lokomotiv Plovdiv.
He was not in the matchday squad for the 5-2 win at Southampton on Sunday, instead forced to train at the club’s north London base while Son Heung-min scored four and Harry Kane added another.
Mourinho put Alli’s absence down to an unbalanced squad. The 24-year-old faces competition from Erik Lamela, Steven Bergwijn, Lucas Moura, Son, Giovani Lo Celso and now Gareth Bale or a place in the team.
“I want a balanced squad, that’s what I want,” Mourinho said when asked whether he wanted Alli to stay. “He doesn’t need to be sacrificed, but the squad is a puzzle.”
“The only thing I can say is that I left eight players behind,” he added. “They stayed and trained this morning because they are a big group and Dele is amongst these players.”
Alli was linked with a move to Real Madrid as part of the deal that eventually saw Bale rejoin Tottenham on loan. Paris Saint-Germain are reportedly interested in the attacking midfielder.
It is understood that Alli wants to stay and fight for his place but the return of Wales star Bale and the improving form of Tanguy Ndombele place even greater pressure on him.
Devil’ will reappear
Mourinho was quick to identify a drop-off in Alli’s form when he became Tottenham boss last November, demanding he start playing “like Dele”.
And he subsequently accused his player of being “lazy” in training during the “All or Nothing” documentary that captured life behind the scenes at Tottenham last season.
The midfielder has struggled to put together a consistent run over the past two years after impressing at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and has also fallen out of favour with England boss Gareth Southgate.
Alli is likely to appear in Tuesday’s League Cup third-round match with Leyton Orient as Mourinho wrestles with a packed fixture list.
Former Liverpool and England midfielder Danny Murphy believes he might need to rethink his role to get back in the Tottenham side.
“I think he’s got to change his position,” said Murphy, who works as a pundit for the BBC.
“He used to love playing in that number 10 role — but not too many teams in the Premier League now play with a number 10.
“(His new position) might be deeper, it might be off the wing and coming inside and getting into those number 10 positions from there.”
Last November, Mauricio Pochettino, in what turned out to be his final days in charge at Tottenham, said he hoped the former MK Dons player would rediscover his “naughty” side.
“It’s still there inside of him,” said Pochettino. “Sometimes players being a bit naughty makes that difference. The devil is going to appear again.”