'Top player' Alli a vital reference point for Spurs

Tottenham midfielder Dele Alli (No. 20) scoring the game's only goal as Spurs saw off a plucky Barnsley side at Wembley on Tuesday. The England midfielder, who plundered his third goal of the season, will be a key man as Spurs battle for silverware o
Tottenham midfielder Dele Alli (No. 20) scoring the game's only goal as Spurs saw off a plucky Barnsley side at Wembley on Tuesday. The England midfielder, who plundered his third goal of the season, will be a key man as Spurs battle for silverware on different fronts.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino lavished praise on Dele Alli after the England midfielder scored the only goal of the match to help Spurs beat Championship side Barnsley 1-0 in the League Cup third round.

The match was played with an unusual vibe, with Wembley containing only 23,926 supporters, and Pochettino having made it clear that the League Cup was a long way down his trophy wish-list.

But the Argentinian had Alli to thank for sparing his team's blushes against a resilient Barnsley side.

"First, I want to congratulate Barnsley, they defended well and it was so tough, but I thought the performance was good and we dominated the game," Pochettino said.

"For me, Dele Alli is a top player. He is a key player for us. I am so happy with him. It's true that everyone can do better but I am happy.

"It is a period that he needs to find his balance but I am so happy, his performance was good. He tried and scored and that is fantastic."

There is seemingly no way to keep the 21-year-old out of the headlines, whether for good or, sometimes, bad and he was on hand in the 65th minute to shoot low into the net from close range for his third goal of the campaign.

Barnsley played a full part in a decent enough tie, with fierce backing from their fans in one enclosure and the club that occupies 20th place in England's second-tier league will wonder how it might have turned out if Ike Ugo had converted a wonderful chance at the start of the second half.

Tottenham, though, deserved to win and they might have added to Alli's goal in the closing stages.

Pochettino previously said on ESPN that he is prioritising winning the Premier League - having finished runners-up last season - and the Champions League, but he went strong with his line-up against Barnsley.

There were starting places for Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele, Alli and Son Heung Min.

However, Barnsley were up to the challenge. It was apparent from the outset that they were set up to fight in their tight 4-3-3 formation and, possibly, punch on the counter-attack or from a set-piece delivery of their own.

"I'm pleased with lots of things," manager Paul Heckingbottom told local newspaper the Yorkshire Post.

"We were desperate to win, but the priority was getting more experience into the players.

"We were better again in the second half. There were lots of positives, but the big opportunities we got, we couldn't capitalise on."

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2017, with the headline ''Top player' Alli a vital reference point for Spurs'. Print Edition | Subscribe