How Do Spurs Cope Without Alli?

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Tottenham Hotspur at Britannia Stadium on April 18, 2016 in Stoke on Trent, England (Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images)
STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Tottenham Hotspur at Britannia Stadium on April 18, 2016 in Stoke on Trent, England (Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images) /

News that Spurs could be lacking a certain Dele Alli in the season’s concluding three matches could be seen as both distressing and exciting.

To play without the recently anointed PFA Young Player of the Year could end up burning Spurs, to be sure. While the Premier League title might be just beyond their reach, there is still much to play for this season: a Champions League berth – preferably one without a pair of qualifying matches before the group stage – and finishing above Arsenal in the league for the first time ever in Alli’s lifetime.

With the young Englishman potentially sitting in the stands for matches against Chelsea, Southampton and Newcastle, Spurs will be without one of their primary direct and indirect sources of goals. Only Kane has had a hand in more scoring events than Alli’s seven combined assists and goals since the beginning of March. His potential absence would be palpable.

Rather than dwelling on the impetuousness of a teenager – which, despite the plaudits and awards and goals, Alli still very much is – it’s more constructive to speculate on how exactly Spurs will press on without their wunderkind.

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Mauricio Pochettino will find some relief in the fact that, but for the continued absence of Nabil Bentaleb due to injury, he has his entire roster to pick from in his attempt to find Alli’s replacement.

Among that batch are five players who, however briefly, featured in Spurs’ attacking band of three at some point this season. Let’s break down how they would each fit into the team should they be brought in in Alli’s absence.

Heung-min Son

The most likely player to benefit from Alli’s potential ban. While his start for Spurs seemed like he’d live up to his hefty £23 million pricetag, his appearances since the turn of the year haven’t quite lived up to that standard.

In the South Korean’s defense, his opportunities since January have been few and far between. He’s come in before for Érik Lamela when the Argentinian was injured or needed rests, but those were hardly enough minutes to build any meaningful momentum.

Knowing that he still needs to prove himself after an uneven first season, Son would have every reason to turn it up to eleven for these three remaining matches. It would likely involve adjustments – Christian Eriksen featuring more centrally, for instance – but it could be a choice beneficial to both player and club.

Nacer Chadli

The Belgian winger began the season as the presumptive starter on the left hand side of attack, scoring against Stoke City in the second game of the season and generally sustaining his decent form from last season.

After an injury kept him out of the side for some months, Chadli returned and proved his worth as a super-sub of sorts. His star turn from the bench in January’s match against Crystal Palace stands out in the mind.

His struggles with fitting into Pochettino’s particular pressing system though make him an unlikely candidate to take on Alli’s mantle. In all likelihood we’ll continue to see him as a late game sub.

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Tom Carroll

This would, admittedly, be a peculiar choice. Carroll has impressed when he’s been put into service this season, but falling back on him now doesn’t seem like particularly forward thinking.

The reason why this doesn’t seem likely surrounds Carroll’s contract situation. Though he’s been a member of the development and first team squad for years, he’s yet to re-new his contract. With it due up this summer – i.e. mere weeks away – it seems unlikely that Spurs would be anxious to give someone a shot in the starting XI who might be leaving very soon.

Clinton Njie

The Cameroonian winger has only just returned from an extended time on the sidelines due to injury. Like Son, he hadn’t been given a significant amount of time prior to that knock to prove his worth, and might jump at the chance to do so now.

While Son has suggested that he’s capable of fitting into Pochettino’s system with relative ease, the same cannot be said of Njie. At times when he featured as a starter or sub, he’s looked overwhelmed by the occasion, either mentally or physically. There’s no doubt that there’s some real talent there – just look at his highlight reals from Lyon – but it’s doubtful that Pochettino or anyone else in the club is confident he can deliver on his promise over three short games.

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Josh Onomah

Maybe the most exciting choice of this list. Onomah just turned 19 on Wednesday, but Pochettino’s evident faith in the young man suggests there’s much to come.

We’ve seen him in Europa League starts and the occasional substitute appearance in the league, and he’s demonstrated a surprising amount of maturity and composure for such a young player. A three game stint at the end of the season would be a tantalizing look into one of the most promising upcoming products of Spurs’ academy.