“We’ve got Alli, Dele Alli,” cried the Spurs fans, a chant more synonymous with the heady days of Mauricio Pochettino back when the midfielder could make a legitimate claim for being the most gifted number ten in the league.
Jose Mourinho’s reign threatened to bring down the curtain on Alli’s Spurs career, but the suspicion that the midfielder could outlive the Portuguese as he continued to start arguments in empty houses last season has been proven right.
Alli proved the difference maker on Sunday, both winning and dispatching the penalty as Tottenham beat Wolves to make it two wins from two in the league for Nuno Espirito Santo as Spurs boss.
In truth, the result was more the product of hard work, fortune, and last ditch challenges for Spurs than it was earned through guile. But what Nuno boasts – even more so with the much anticipated return of Harry Kane at Molineux – is a killer instinct in the attacking area. Bruno Lage could be forgiven for hoping Adama Traore one day pairs that exact attribute to his frightening individual ability.
The Spain international was sent through on the hour mark with only Hugo Lloris to beat. Lacking composure, he could not wrap his finish around the Spurs number one and the Molineux crowd were left with their head in their hands.
It was a display of real verve from Traore, as he tormented the inexperienced Japhet Tanganga in the opening period and drove the ball into dangerous areas for Wolves to threaten the Spurs penalty area. The Wolves wide man ended the game with 66 touches, more than Son Heung-min and Lucas Moura combined.
He sashayed inside with the ball menacingly early in the first half, spreading play wide to the dangerous Nelson Semedo as Wolves wreaked havoc on Spurs on the flanks with their wing-back system. On 26 minutes Traore breezed past Tanganga and cut the ball back to Raul Jimenez on the edge of the area for the Mexican to fire over, despite there appearing to be better placed options haring into the six yard box. Spurs’ midfield anchor Oliver Skipp was then forced to walk a tightrope for the remainder of the game when he was booked for hauling Traore down shortly before half time.
It appeared only a matter of time before Wolves would level amid waves of pressure in the second half, but Lage’s side were saddled with a lack of conviction in the final third, with Francisco Trincao also guilty on the opposite side.
Instead, Spurs could have killed it through Kane while Alli retained a threat on the counter-attack. Only Sergio Reguilon had more touches than the midfielder (62) for Spurs as his use of both the ball and space stood out in a Spurs performance that wouldn’t have looked out of place under Mourinho.
Fortunately for Alli, Spurs are now under the tutelage of a manager who understands the merits of his ability. The 25-year-old is most effective in the situations when all those around him are losing their cool. The intelligence to make the run beyond the Wolves backline with space at a premium in behind showed the value a player like him brings to the squad.
It was a move that was reminiscent of his exquisite touch and finish against Chelsea in Spurs’ famous victory at Stamford Bridge in 2018, not so much the technique as the intelligence to find composure in a big situation.
As one gifted attacker frustrated at one end, another proved the X-factor at the other.