Dele Alli looked odds on to be leaving Tottenham in January, either on loan or permanently, but his performance against Liverpool will have given Antonio Conte food for thought
Finally, there appears to be some hope for Dele Alli.
He is an outrageously talented player who has lost his way in the past three seasons and is now in need of a fresh start.
That appeared to be looking as if it would be at a new club, under a new manager as time and patience was running out at Tottenham.
But sometimes in football, circumstances contrive to provide a lifeline which Alli looks ready to grasp with both hands.
Tottenham boss Antonio Conte gave Alli his first start in the Premier League since September against Liverpool on Sunday.
It did not quite come off for the England international as his one big chance was saved by Liverpool keeper Alisson Becker who somehow pushed Alli’s shot round the post when he looked certain to score.
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That would have put the finishing touch on a performance full of determination and tenacity as the 25-year-old showed his old aggression and desire.
But there was arguably enough there to convince Conte that he is a player worth pursuing – just at a time when it appeared Alli might be leaving in next month’s transfer window.
Tottenham might have been open to a loan move or even a permanent switch but valuing a player of his class would have been difficult on the back of a disappointing three years.
Conte said after the game: “If we play with a 3-5-2, he’s a midfielder that is good physically, strong physically, good technique, good penetration because he has the right ability to attack. He had chances to score but it was a good performance.”
Alli is probably in the last chance saloon at Tottenham which is a crying shame for a player who went to the last World Cup as one of England’s biggest stars.
In fact, you could even make a case that Alli was the biggest of all because his model looks, fashion style, eye for the spectacular and natural ability prompted comparisons to David Beckham.
But since then, Alli has had a torturous time with injury, Mauricio Pochettino championed his ability but even the ex-Spurs boss could not get the best out of the midfielder who struggled for form amid a series of setbacks.
Alli lost his way, was painted – sometimes unfairly – as a party boy and, after signing a mega contract until 2024, he struggled to live up to his reputation on the pitch.
Different managers gave him a chance. Jose Mourinho made his infamous remark – “I asked him if he was Dele or Dele’s brother” – suggesting that it was time for the real Alli to stand up.
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Despite starting him and giving him a chance, Mourinho’s reign finished with Alli out of favour and yet Nuno Espirito Santo started this season with him back in the starting XI.
However, Alli’s last start under Nuno was the 3-1 defeat at Arsenal when he was hooked at half time and then he was a substitute against Manchester United which ended in defeat and the sack for the Spurs boss.
It feels as if Alli has had his fair share of fresh starts and maybe he might not have got an opportunity under Conte but for the fact the squad has been left threadbare by injuries and on the back of the recent Covid outbreak.
However, Alli was ready and willing. He stepped up and, even though it took a while for him to get going, he showed energy in getting around the pitch and got into goalscoring positions.
This is a player who does have a knack for goals and assists. One regular watcher used to say that there were no are areas with Alli. He was either brilliant – or contributed little to a game.
That will not be allowed under Conte. He will be expected to work hard under a demanding coach but maybe discipline is just what he needs for a fresh start.