Time to rest Dele Alli?

Last weekend’s 4-1 win against Sunderland was interesting in a number of ways, not least in that it was a great example of a team playing well while an individual visibly struggled. Dele Alli did not lack endeavour, but when he got home last Saturday night and replayed the game in his head (you know you do this even after five-a-side), he’ll have been terribly frustrated. The standout moment, of course, was eight minutes into the game when a Spurs corner resulted in a loose ball bouncing right in front of the youngster in the box, and when it would have been easier to score, he skied it. 

Alli is supremely self-assured on the pitch, and it would be remiss to say that the missed chance dented his confidence in any significant way, but it did feel as though he spent the rest of the game trying to make it up to himself – perhaps trying too hard in the way that Townsend often does. Then there was the Van Aanholt incident, in which Alli threw the ball into the Sunderland full-back’s face. Was that a sign of frustration, or just a little bit of impudence? Ultimately it matters little, but either way the Sunderland game made me think that perhaps Alli could use a game or two out of the spotlight. He has played a lot of football this season – far more than either he or his manager would have expected. Young players will always go through peaks and troughs of form, but to ensure that there is no burn out in the second half of the campaign, a short rest might be an idea.

There’s also a blonde, Danish, elf-like reason that resting the young Englishman could prove useful. Christian Eriksen has taken a lot of criticism this season for his inconsistent performances. Some of it warranted, some less so, but it is irresponsible to judge Eriksen’s form without considering his position. Alli’s rise to prominence has seen Eriksen – who really is a specialist #10 and nothing else – moved out to the left, or occasionally the right. It is true that in a Pochettino system every midfielder has defensive responsibilities, but on the wing there is far more ground to cover and while the Dane is perfectly capable of covering it, it doesn’t bring the best out of his attacking game. He is being sacrificed.

The odd thing is that the squad has two other players in Son and Chadli who are more naturally suited to playing in that left-sided role, and we saw their goal threat in the FA Cup against Leicester. If Eriksen’s talent is deemed so vast or of such importance that he is kept in the team every week despite poor performances out wide, it seems incongruous that he is then shunted out of the position in which he does his best work, even though there is some rotation within games. Against Sunderland, Eriksen scored Tottenham’s equalizer after moving to the #10 position with Alli out to the left when the team kicked off after conceding. Not only did he score the goal, but also played a large part in creating it. It was a quick demonstration of how effective Eriksen can be in central positions. He is one of the best strikers of the ball at the club, and his shooting is a potent weapon, even if that particular strike was helped in by Lee Cattermole, who – despite being a professional footballer – was completely done in by a bit of spin. 

Resting Alli and allowing Eriksen the central role would also give Son or Chadli the chance to play wide, a la in the FA Cup. While I’m not an advocate of fixing something that isn’t broken, having squad players is fine as long as they are able to do a competent job when called upon. Pochettino has barely rotated in the league, and although so far he has rotated very well in the cups, as Tottenham get further into them and the competition gets more serious, the opportunities to rotate will lessen still. With Lamela a seeming fixture on the right, Son and Chadli have seen limited game time. Players like Bentaleb and Wimmer are in a similar position. Their lack of playing time has been is justified, I think, but also slightly risky in that  - despite their good performances against Leicester – fringe players can often take a few games to find their rhythm if they haven’t played regularly in a while. That kind of grace period can be costly, especially in tight games. 

With league fixtures against an out-of-form Crystal Palace, a defensively shaky Norwich and then Watford in the coming weeks, now might be the time to shuffle the pack just a little, and freshen things up. It is going to be a long, gruelling second half of the season, and during his time in England Pochettino’s teams have had the tendency to drop off in the spring. Resting the right players at the right time will, with any luck, stop it happening this time around.

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