Midfielder | Tottenham Hotspur | England
For Dele Alli, his late goal against Swansea City on a miserable evening at the Liberty Stadium may be the best way to sum up the calendar year of 2018 for the Tottenham Hotspur star.
Having broken onto the scene during a breathtaking campaign for the North London outfit in 2015/16, the hyperbole that so often swirl around young English players has all but been ignored in his case, largely down to the work of both Mauricio Pochettino and Gareth Southgate, allowing the former MK Dons youngster to make his greatest strides forward yet.
2018 has been…
During that wet and windy evening in South Wales, way back on January 2nd 2018, Alli’s late goal helped his side keep the pace in the race for the top four after an extremely important performance in his Tottenham career.
While Spurs were already 1-0 up, a late Swansea barrage threatened to ruin Tottenham’s day until the young England midfielder expertly latched onto a Harry Kane pass and initially had his shot blocked by Łukasz Fabiański, before tucking home a tap in to seal the game for the away side.
Alli has, had and will continue to score better goals than that in his career, though that was mere example of what 2018 brought him, graft to his guile.
Operating in a myriad of positions at both domestic and international level, nine goals and eight assists in 2018 don’t truly tell the whole story. A much more prominent player deep in midfield, his recent harrying of a previously imperious Chelsea midfield at Wembley was a fine example of his growing involvement away from the final third.
As he’s coached into understanding the game better, there was always likely to be a drop-off in the rate of goals and assists, while injuries have clearly played a part over the course of the year.
Still, that’s not to say he’s given up contributing in the biggest games. Indeed, his virtuoso display away at Stamford Bridge back in April yielded two goals against Chelsea, putting an end to Spurs’ dreadful record in SW6, while there were also his opener in the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United, as well as his header against Sweden to seal England’s passage to their first World Cup semi-final since 1990.
However, it’s with the English national team where Alli’s biggest challenge seems to lie. While he’s a tried and trusted lieutenant of the Mauricio Pochettino project with his club, England’s recent change in shape since the World Cup (where it should be noted, injuries stopped him from truly making a mark) may make life difficult for him. In a 4-3-3, the 22-year-old will have to improve as either a number 8 or risk dropping out of the starting XI.
As mentioned, nine goals and eight assists in 2018 do not tell the whole story. A much more rounded player and one who developed tactically under two exciting young coaches, there were enough big moments over the course of the 12 months to make up for some of the more anonymous performances. He is, after all, only 22, as much as we might forget it.