Risk-Taking Tottenham Hotspur Continue to Thrill with Win over Crystal Palace

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistJanuary 24, 2016

"He who dares, wins!" So went one of several catchphrases made famous by Derek "Del Boy" Trotter–beloved character of the popular BBC sitcom Only Fools and Horses.

Playing in an earlier generation, Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Dele Alli would almost certainly have been granted the "Del Boy" epithet by English team-mates. Besides the similar(ish) names, the 19-year-old's role in his side's 3-1 win over Crystal Palace shows he more than embodies the risk-taking qualities of the aforementioned mantra.

Alli is at the right club in this regard.

Besides Tottenham's translated Latin motto being "to dare is to do," head coach Mauricio Pochettino is also encouraging and honing a style of football that veers thrillingly between brilliant and hazardous.

Alli credited his superb lead-grabbing goal at Selhurst Park to instinct (see above). His stunning choice was the most logical and immediate option in an enviable footballing mind.

But his willingness to try something as audacious as flicking the ball over his opponent and volleying it in from 20 yards, that is also informed by working in an environment that supports such expression.

Fourth-placed Spurs' performance south of the River Thames showed the good and bad of this. It displayed how the courageous play that is inspiring title challenge-enhancing performances at times treads worryingly close to recklessness.

When several first-half attempts to break the organised Crystal Palace resistance were turned against them, Spurs did not hesitate in going again from back to front.

Pochettino's logic in wanting to instigate creativity in all areas of the pitch is understandable and mostly sound.

Possession is more likely to be maintained this way than with generally low-percentage long balls forward. The team's skillful attackers are more suited to being prompted by the forward runs of a Danny Rose or the passing of a Jan Vertonghen too.

Nonetheless, persistence in the strategy can quickly give way to unhelpful stubbornness—the more eye-pleasing ground-based game not precluding mistakes and opposition intervention.

Wilfried Zaha's 21st-minute closing down of Hugo Lloris forced a mishit pass that Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld did well to stop resulting in an even earlier opening goal for the Eagles. On other occasions Spurs initially succeeded in bypassing the Eagles' team-wide pressing, only to see the increased speed of the moving ball overheat the moves a second or two later.

Coupled with Palace's own defensive work stifling Tottenham's forwards, it felt like Alan Pardew had landed upon an ideal game plan.

Vertonghen's 30th-minute own goal came via a more standard attack. Though it could be argued he should have cleared the ball rather than attempt to pass out after an initial tackle, it was the carefully applied surrounding pressure that contributed to this specific situation and the visitors' general unease at this point (it is a wonder other teams do not try and get at Spurs more to unsettle them, as they do to so many).

Pochettino's decision to be bold after the interval—still looking to pass first, but upping the ante offensively—was an obvious one given they were a goal down. Yet, its implementing by his players' implementing the strategy was testament to their increasing confidence this season and bodes well for the character that will be required in games to come.

Palace aided Spurs by going a little too cautious. The home side's willingness to sit on their lead rather than immediately look to add to it almost certainly soothed Pochettino's concerns in replacing defensive midfielder Eric Dier with the more attacking Nacer Chadli (though the former's absence did leave them exposed at points later on).

From here, the north Londoners forced the issue.

A little luck and Palace's tidier finish from might have punished interspersed incidents of defensive laxness (primarily after Vertonghen went off injured), with Scott Dann and Mile Jedinak notably hitting the bar in close succession. Yet, this near-inspired desperation was essentially in response to Spurs' impressive dismantling of them.

Off the back of a season-best showing midweek against Leicester City, the resurgent Chadli was instrumental in this.

His elegantly floated cross for Harry Kane's equaliser risked embarrassment if goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey chanced intervening or (more likely) Damien Delaney did not just stand there ball-watching. Yet, the Belgian trusted his team-mate to attack it.

Along with his elegant match-sealing goal in stoppage time, it was a just reward for being proactive. His stretching of play out left and composure when receiving the ball gave Crystal Palace more than they could handle.

Chadli was not alone in taking the game to them in the second half.

Christian Eriksen continued his own upturn in form, relishing the task of teasing his opponents out of shape. Kane did not stop running and neither did the determined Mousa Dembele or the lively Heung-Min Son.

Ultimately, though, in praising the triumph of Tottenham's risk-taking nature over its flaws, it is hard to get away from Alli right now. He's a player whose precocious, adventurous performances are putting both team-mates and more experienced Premier League midfielders in the shade (the latter as brought up by Squawka below).

Alli almost had a second breathtaking goal after he skipped past Delaney and then chipped Hennessey, only to hit the crossbar. At one point he volleyed from just inside the halfway line, though that was one ambitious effort too many, and it dropped way short of the net.

Continuing in this form, it will not be Del Trotter he is being linked with, but another English icon of the 1980s and 1990s.

Skillful, competitive and with genuine game-changing ability, Alli does not look too far removed from Tottenham and England great Paul Gascoigne.

He has plenty to do to be seriously regarded in Gazza's category. But his chances of getting there? Just watch his goal again.


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