Things went slightly differently in Dele Alli’s mind. Almost an hour into Tottenham’s excellent win over Burnley, the England international was played in on goal down the right-hand side. One could see the gears moving: with Ben Mee closing in, Alli envisaged flicking the ball over the centre-half’s head and firing past Nick Pope to double his side’s lead.
In reality, it was more Paul Chuckle than Paul Gascoigne. The 21-year-old planned a deft touch to deceive Mee but instead lobbed the ball straight into the air and into the welcoming arms of Pope. ‘Dele Alli, what a w*nker,’ came the charming chant from the home fans.
Alli is no stranger to such reactions: Raheem Sterling appears to have passed the mantle of despised young Englishman. His temperament has been questioned throughout his Premier League career, his attitude critiqued. From Claudio Yacob’s stomach to Kevin de Bruyne’s ankle, with a brief detour to Brecht Dejaegere’s shin, the forward is leaving his stamp on the football anatomy in more ways than one.
If the main accusation levelled at Alli is that he is petulant when under pressure, like the unruly child who throws a tantrum after being caught stealing another kid’s toys, these past few weeks have offered plenty of opportunity to see him in full flow. His woeful challenge on De Bruyne came when Manchester City were teaching Tottenham a football lesson, his performances having been scrutinised for months. Before this weekend, he had no goals and two assists in his last eight Premier League games.
Saturday evening was Alli in excelsis. Within the opening ten minutes he was booked for a late challenge on Charlie Taylor, before encouraging Kevin Long to dangle a leg to assist him in his successful attempts to win a penalty. As ever, he was Tottenham’s hero but the overall villain of the piece.
Harry Kane converted from the spot, and but for a brief period before half-time, Tottenham did not look back.
It was almost fitting that the pair combined for Kane’s hat-trick goal. Kane tracked back to win the ball in Burnley’s half, Ben Davies found Alli on the outside of the area and two touches later, Kane had converted his 36th Premier League goal of the calendar year. He has one game left to claim Alan Shearer’s record for his own outright.
But even in scoring three goals, Kane was overshadowed – he might be the most rebellious of modern day footballers, but he is the lead happy to let supporting actors like Alli take centre stage. If Kane is the well-mannered school prefect, Alli is the one who sits at the back of the class throwing pencils and making fart noises. It is impossible to even imagine opposition fans branding Kane a ‘w*nker’, or even booing him. The differences in his and Alli’s character and playing style really do suggest that opposites attract.
Kane was the difference on Saturday, but Alli, as he often is, was Tottenham’s lightning rod. It was he who was resoundly booed upon his late substitution, it was he who the pundits discussed at half-time, and it will likely be Alli who Sean Dyche reserves much of his disgruntled post-match musings for.
Not that Alli, Kane or Mauricio Pochettino will mind. The Tottenham manager has not moved from his stance on the under-performing Alli, insisting that he can play him back into form instead of resting or dropping him. That no player created more chances (3) suggests that the light at the end of the tunnel might soon become more than a speck.
Most impressive about Kane’s 20-goal season thus far is that his partner in crime has been little more than a passenger. His and Alli’s previous telepathic understanding has been almost completely absent, but this was the latter’s fourth Premier League assist of the season: three have been for Kane.
If Pochettino can harness their relationship once more, Tottenham have a chance of salvaging something from this season. With Kane as the goalscoring hero and Alli as the pantomime villain, they make a powerful and potent combination.