LONDON, April 1 (Reuters) - Dele Alli answered his critics in timely and emphatic fashion with two second-half goals as Tottenham Hotspur won 3-1 at Chelsea in the Premier League on Sunday.
The 21-year-old attacking midfielder has come under scrutiny this season for a string of diving accusations while his form has dipped below that of the last campaign when he scored 22 goals for Tottenham in all competitions.
He failed to start either of England’s friendlies against the Netherlands and Italy during the international break but in his 100th Premier League game for Tottenham, he showed exactly what makes him so dangerous.
Christian Eriksen’s piledriver had cancelled out Alvaro Morata’s opener for Chelsea before Alli, who was quiet in the first half when he was mocked by the home fans, took centre stage in deadly fashion.
In the 62nd minute he showed impeccable timing to beat Chelsea’s offside trap and take down England team mate Eric Dier’s high through ball with one delicate touch before firing past Willy Caballero with his second.
Four minutes later he showed quick feet to fire home from close range after a goalmouth scramble, sealing his side’s first win at Stamford Bridge for 28 years.
It was his first league brace since Tottenham’s home win over Chelsea last season and took his season’s haul to 12 in all competitions. The result sent his side eight points clear of the Blues in the race for a top-four finish.
Manager Mauricio Pochettino said he had complete faith in Alli, despite the negativity surrounding him of late.
“He’s a great talent and I have no doubts about him,” Pochettino said. “Young players need room to breathe. There’s pressure on their shoulders. It’s more about the expectation being so high.
“Very pleased for Dele because it’s been a tough period for him. But there is no doubt about his talent and character.”
Pochettino was also asked whether Alli’s confidence had been affected by not playing for England last week when Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard earned praise in his position.
“No, it did not affect him, he is a fighter,” he said. “We have to help him if he doesn’t play for the national team. We have to help him win the trust and confidence of the national manager. That’s the only way to do it.”
Alli’s second-half display will earn the headlines but Tottenham again showed their strength in depth as, without leading scorer Harry Kane, they battled back to taste victory at Stamford Bridge for the first time since 1990.
With seven games remaining they are in a strong position to qualify for the Champions League for the third season running and leave Chelsea to contemplate Europa League football.
“It was a massive win,” Pochettino said. “But it would be wrong to think it’s done.”
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte said his side paid for not being clinical.
“We played well in the first half especially but only scored once,” he told reporters. “We should have been 2-0 or 3-0 but instead conceded the goal in the last minute of the first half and that created a problem in the mind and our confidence.”
Asked if Chelsea could still make the top four, the Italian said: “I don’t know. We must be realistic. The teams ahead of us are going very fast. Today we had a great chance to close the gap but we lost the chance.” (Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar)