He instead prefers to play instinctively. He has brilliant close control, can dribble his way out of pressured situations and scores the vast majority of his goals with impulsive, first-time finishes, often after ghosting forwards in an inside-left position between the right-sided central defender and right-back, or – as he did in scoring his two famous headed goals in Tottenham’s 2-0 win over the title-bound Chelsea in January 2017 – on the outside of the right-sided central defender. Alli is at his best with the freedom to take those positions, and that is partly why he shone in the early part of Mourinho’s reign.
Role at Tottenham
Mourinho made a point of singling Alli out shortly after his appointment by Spurs. “I asked him if he was Dele or Dele’s brother,” the Portuguese said. “He told me he was Dele. ‘Okay,’ I said. ‘Play like Dele.’” Then Mourinho set his new team up to get the most out of him.
Spurs’ title challenge in 2015/16, and much of their best football under Pochettino, came in a 4-2-3-1 featuring Alli as their number 10, though he also shone in the 3-4-3 with which Spurs challenged Chelsea the following season. Mourinho swiftly reverted to a 4-2-3-1 and Kane as their lone striker; Pochettino had persisted with two up front to get both Kane and Son as near to goal as possible. Alli’s response was four goals and three assists in the first five fixtures under Mourinho. He had scored just twice and provided only one assist in his first 10 appearances of 2019/20.
During 2019/20 Spurs recovered from a losing position to beat Olympiakos in a crucial Champions League group stage game. At 2-0 down, Alli scored on the stroke of half-time, and it is arguable that he wouldn’t have been in the position he was (below) to tap in so opportunistically following a defensive error were it not for Mourinho changing his role.