Dele Alli earns Tottenham a 1-1 draw at Everton that confirms title credentials
LIVERPOOL, England -- Three thoughts from Everton and Tottenham's entertaining 1-1 draw in the Premier League.
1. Spurs show they are the real deal
Perhaps it is typical of this strangest of seasons that on a weekend when Tottenham fell further behind the league leaders, they also embellished their title credentials. A day after Arsenal won, their neighbours only drew against Everton. They did so, however, in such style to suggest they are serious challengers.
While many come to Goodison Park and collect points, few do so with such dominance. Everton could count themselves unfortunate to lose at home to Stoke on Monday but they were lucky to avoid defeat six days later. Tottenham increased the division's longest current unbeaten away run, which dates back to an opening-day defeat at Manchester United, but probably deserved to complete the Christmas and New Year fixtures with a fourth straight win. The one concern is that they draw too many games as they shared the points for the ninth time this season.
Everton have accounted for two of those draws but Roberto Martinez's men still remain in the wrong half of the league; given the talent in their ranks, it amounts to underachievement. While they led thanks to Aaron Lennon, a defector from White Hart Lane, it came against the run of play. The hosts had just four touches in the Spurs box before the break, with three of them coming in the move that brought their goal.
But their lead didn't last. Everton clean sheets are rarities and one on Sunday was improbable long before Dele Alli levelled with a thumping shot from distance. Harry Kane had struck the post and Ben Davies the bar, both from around 25 yards. Each was an impressive strike and notable for the space Everton afforded them.
Tellingly, Martinez reinforced his midfield in a second-half switch, bringing on Muhamed Besic for Arouna Kone. The Bosnian threatened a winner with a volley that forced a stunning save from Hugo Lloris and brought greater solidity but while they finished well, Everton spent much of the match on the back foot. It was a sign of Spurs' prowess.
2. Alli is Pochettino's perfect 10
Alli may have envisaged lighting up Merseyside with goals like this, a blend of dynamism, drive, technique and talent. The difference is that he probably imagined it happening a few hundred yards from Goodison Park. Alli is a Liverpool fan and the man Liverpool should have signed; yet the midfielder who grew up idolising Steven Gerrard has turned out to be Tottenham's best buy of the Mauricio Pochettino era. His fifth goal of the campaign was set up by Toby Alderweireld, their other most astute acquisition.
Precise as Alderweireld's long pass was, Alli still had the tougher task. He accomplished it in expert fashion, too, controlling the ball on his chest and placing a volley beyond Tim Howard while somehow retaining his momentum and balance. It was an indication of the potency that has made a man who was operating in League One nine months ago into an automatic choice for Tottenham. The only question for Pochettino is where to field him.
With Mousa Dembele injured and Tom Carroll a very different but effective replacement alongside Eric Dier, Alli served as Tottenham's No. 10. It was a role that prompted comparisons with Ross Barkley, another prodigy who has kicked on this season. They may be rivals for a place in England's Euro 2016 starting 11 and with each illustration of their ability, the case for fielding Wayne Rooney behind the main striker gets weaker.
If Barkley seemed the most compelling choice for much of this season, Alli's verve means he may be timing his ascent to perfection. He was the more influential on this occasion, setting up Kane for a chance while Barkley had one of his quieter games.
3. Lennon relishes his reunion
There's often an inevitability when a player scores against his old club, especially in his first reunion and having been unceremoniously exiled. Not this time. One of the major criticisms of Lennon has been that he scores too few goals, let alone memorable, high-class ones. He is arguably an example of potential that had not been fully realised, a player who reached higher levels in the 2006 World Cup as a teenager than in the years that were supposed to be his peak.
Playing 364 games for Tottenham yielded a mere 30 goals, while an England career that began so promisingly offered none. Yet his third career goal for Everton was terrific. Tom Cleverley angled a diagonal ball to Romelu Lukaku, who chested it down for Lennon to unleash a half-volley of unerring accuracy.
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In an instant, Martinez was vindicated. It was a somewhat strange decision when the Everton manager benched reliable provider Gerard Deulofeu for Lennon, who had made a negligible impact since signing a permanent deal at Goodison Park in the summer. Yet there was method to the apparent madness, even if Tottenham may not appreciate it.
Lennon was one of those rendered surplus to requirements as Pochettino preferred malleable, energetic youngsters. Despite the winger's crisp strike, it is hard to deem it a mistake. Certainly Spurs had not missed Lennon in a season when Erik Lamela has been transformed, Alli has been a revelation, Christian Eriksen has continued to contribute and a glimpse at their bench showed Heung-Min Son and Nacer Chadli offering solid attacking options for either flank.
Ultimately, the appreciation from their camp was belated. When Lennon was withdrawn for Deulofeu -- a change the home supporters actually booed -- the visiting fans chorused a former favourite's name. It is safe to assume Pochettino did not join in.
Richard Jolly is a football writer for ESPN, The Guardian, The National, The Observer, the Straits Times and the Sunday Express.