Premier League

The unsung hero of Tottenham’s Champions League miracle


When you think of Dele Alli at the peak of his powers at Tottenham Hotspur, your mind probably wanders to his incredible goal against Crystal Palace.


Just smile and wave, boys / GLYN KIRK/GettyImages

Or his double to break Chelsea’s 13-match winning streak.

Dele Alli

Two goals of a kind / Mike Hewitt/GettyImages

Or his Champions League brace against Real Madrid.

Dele Alli

Lighting up Wembley / Catherine Ivill – AMA/GettyImages

Or cupping his ear to the Shed End all the while he was ending Tottenham’s barren run at Stamford Bridge.

Dele Alli

Rattled / Chris Brunskill Ltd/GettyImages

Or scoring in England’s 2018 World Cup campaign which brought the nation’s enthusiasm for the national team back.

Dele Alli, Ashley Young

Sending England to the semi-finals / Clive Rose/GettyImages

You probably don’t think of his final truly great game – Spurs’ 3-2 comeback win at Ajax in the semi-finals of the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League.

UEFA Champions League"Ajax v Tottenham Hotspur FC"

A complete performance in Amsterdam / VI-Images/GettyImages

Now, the reasons for that are obvious. If you had to pick only one winner from that match, it would be hat-trick hero Lucas Moura. Dele’s own such revered exploits have come when he was the one on the scoresheet. His best moments were usually just those – moments.

The difference in his difference-making in Amsterdam was that it came over the course of the whole 90 minutes. Dele’s fingerprints were all over the greatest night in Tottenham’s modern history despite never taking on his favourite role in the centre of the stage.

As Spurs went one and two-down at the Johan Cruyff Arena and their Champions League campaign was going up in flames, Dele was one of the only responders before Spurs managed to regroup at the half-time break.

Ajax led 2-0 on the night, 3-0 on aggregate. Mauricio Pochettino hauled off Victor Wanyama for Fernando Llorente, the gigantic Spaniard going up top as Tottenham went from a narrow 4-4-2 to their more traditional 4-2-3-1. Into the hole went Dele, with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings from deep.

It was this combination to first wrangle the Ajax nerves, a traditional Eriksen cross from the half-space finding Dele round the back and forcing Andre Onana into his first fine save of the evening. If they were eventually eliminated, that moment would have been seen as Spurs’ sliding-doors nightmare.

The criticisms of Dele in more recent years have been due to his early decline and inability to maintain or clear the extremely high bar he managed to set. When the stats dried up, there was a casual and disingenuous…

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