The Warm-Up: Dele Alli's five-year plan comes to fruition
Jack Lang digs through the remains of last night's Champions League action...
THURSDAY’S BIG STORIES
Welcome to the Dele counter
Five years is a long old time in football. Just ask Dele Alli. On this day in 2012, he was making his senior debut for MK Dons, a mischievous little grin of a footballer unknown to the world. He had big ambitions but he was operating in a small pond: he replaced Jay O’Shea in a 0-0 draw with Cambridge City.
Alli scored twice, either side of half-time, as Spurs placed their hands around their visitors’ necks and slowly began to squeeze. The second, in particular, beautifully illustrated the dominance of the hosts, Alli casually sauntering past Casemiro, letting him catch up and then leaving him in a heap on the floor before finishing via a deflection.
This was not a one-man show, however, and the five-year thing could equally apply to the following: Harry Kane making Sergio Ramos look like a Sunday League player; Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko (!!!!) winning the midfield battle against Toni Kroos and Luka Modric; Kieran Trippier channelling Carlos Alberto to win his personal battle with Marcelo.
All of this actually happened. At points in the second half, it almost became awkward: Tottenham were mocking Madrid, making them look ordinary. It seemed like Mauricio Pochettino even sent Mousa Dembele on near the end with the express brief of winding up Sergio Ramos, just for a laugh. It worked, but then so did everything Spurs tried on a night that will live long in the memory.
Was this the night that Wembley truly became home? The night Tottenham truly arrived as a European force? The night Dele Alli came of age in the Champions League? It looks like three yeses. Maybe, in five years’ time, Spurs will look back on this game as a real staging post.
Like dancing about architecture
Writing about football in the latter part of 2017 is increasingly just a question of finding new ways to say “Manchester City are very, very, very good at football.
You can do it with numbers:“5, 4, 6, 5, 2, 1, 7, 2, 3, 3, 4 – goals scored by City in their last 11 games, League Cup not included.”
You can do it with similes and metaphors:
“Like a power drill through butter; an orchestra in an age of pub rock.”
Manchester City sichert sich den Einzug ins AchtelfinaleSID
You can do it with overly convoluted compound adjectives:
“City were competitive-dad-playing-Monopoly-at-Christmas dominant and worst-enemy-involved-in-an-embarrassing-but-ultimately-non-fatal-car-accident watchable.”
Really, though, all attempts to reconfigure the feeling pale in comparison with the experience itself. To paraphrase Elvis Costello, writing about Manchester City is like dancing about architecture.
Hope springs eternal
“I do want to specifically mention Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain,” wrote Klopp. “He has shown his class each and every time he has had the opportunity on the pitch and the weekend was another example of this. He is like dynamite when he comes on.”
Those who watched Oxlade-Chamberlain’s first few games for Liverpool may interpret that analogy as they wish, but there were at least some encouraging signs on Wednesday night. And with Georginio Wijnaldum forced off with an injury in the first half, the artist formerly known as “The Ox” may even get the odd minute in what he claims is his best position in the weeks ahead.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain of Liverpool shoots during the UEFA Champions League group E match between Liverpool and NK Maribor at AnfieldGetty Images
IN OTHER NEWS
Well this has aged well. Here is World Soccer’s list of the 50 most exciting teenagers on the planet in 2007, which is – as you’d expect, I suppose – very much a mixed bag.
Some have turned out rather well indeed: Gareth Bale, Angel Di Maria, Karim Benzema, Kroos, Juan Mata, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez.
And then we get to the head-scratchers. Sadick Adams? Gerardo Bruna? Sapol Mani? Are we really sure these weren’t just made up?
HEROES AND ZEROES
Hero: Sergio Aguero
The Argentine is one name on the list above who has done pretty well for himself, and there was a milestone goal for him in Italy last night. Aguero’s unerring finish, after a lightning break, was his 178th for City, making him their top scorer of all time.
Not bad for a player who appeared to be heading out of the Etihad only a year or so ago. It’s fair to assume Guardiola has come round to his charms now, though.
And the Oscar for Pretending To Be Drunk To Win A Free-Kick goes to…
" To some, soccer is moving beyond the traditional, tight definitions of positions. Modern systems and tactics demand that players fill any number of roles during any given game, shifting between duties as the situation demands. Who even decides the positions? Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager, said. If you are a left back, maybe you started as a left winger. A central defender might have started as a No. 6.""
Everton's caretaker manager David Unsworth wants to see more smiles around the clubPA Sport
The Everton Misery Roadshow (now under new management, but don’t worry, loyal follower, it’s still just as bleak as ever!) rolls into France at six o’clock for a doomed date with Lyon. Les Gones won the first encounter between the sides at Goodison Park and are averaging almost three goals per home game in Ligue 1, so Ashley Williams could once again be reduced to aiming pointless shoves at nonplussed opponents.