LONDON (Reuters) - Tottenham Hotspur are still finding their feet under new manager Jose Mourinho but the player who has benefited the most from his arrival is midfielder-turned-forward Dele Alli, whose winner secured three points against Brighton & Hove Albion on Thursday.
After going through a purple patch when he scored 37 Premier League goals in three seasons — including 18 in the 2016/17 campaign — Alli fell by the wayside last season as injuries denied him a consistent run of games.
Prior to Mourinho’s appointment, Alli had scored only three goals in 30 games but in his last eight matches the 23-year-old has five goals and three assists — more than any Spurs player since the Portuguese coach took over from Mauricio Pochettino.
“People now say since I arrived that Dele has scored three or four goals in the Premier League and one or two goals in the Champions League but I don’t go in that direction,” Mourinho said after Spurs moved up to fifth.
“I go in the direction that Dele Alli was exhausted from work. I love players who are exhausted from that.”
No Spurs player covered more ground against Brighton than Alli, whose first-time lob over goalkeeper Mat Ryan was the icing on the cake of a second-half comeback which had Mourinho jumping up and down on the touchline.
“It’s an unbelievable finish,” said Tottenham’s first goalscorer Harry Kane. “The ball is cut back to him, comes to him so quickly and it’s a kind of scoop over the goalkeeper - fantastic, he deserves it.”
Pivotal to Alli’s change in fortunes has been Mourinho’s decision to deploy him in the final third of the pitch rather than have him toiling away in a central midfield role, with the Portuguese explaining that Alli is “not a midfield player”.
With Kane and Son Heung-min up front under Pochettino, Alli was tasked with linking the midfield and attack but Mourinho has given him a free role, allowing the 23-year-old to play in advanced areas — especially when Kane drops deep.
The role change has given Alli a shot in the arm and he has scored exquisite goals worthy of season-ending highlight reels.
From a deft lob that flummoxed the Manchester United defence to set himself up for a volley to beat David De Gea to chesting down a long ball and chipping the goalkeeper against Bournemouth, Alli has thrived and rediscovered his golden touch.
With South Korean international Son still suspended, Spurs will count on Alli to provide the attacking impetus as they battle with Mourinho’s former side Chelsea — who are three points ahead in fourth — for the final Champions League spot.
Tottenham next visit bottom side Norwich City on Saturday.
Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris