Jose Mourinho has defended his decision to substitute Dele Alli against RB Leipzig in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday by pointing out Tottenham Hotspur were better once the midfielder left the pitch.
Alli reacted angrily when his number was called in the 64th minute of Spurs' 1-0 home defeat in the first leg of the last 16. However, Mourinho didn't take Alli's emotions personally, per Football.London's Alasdair Gold: "I think he was angry with his performance. Not with me. I think he understands why I took him off, and the team improved."
It's hard to argue with Mourinho's reasoning since Tottenham became more aggressive, both on and off the ball, once Erik Lamela had replaced Alli. The Argentinian, who had been dealing with groin and thigh injuries, led a more intense press that harassed Leipzig players and created some promising opportunities for a Spurs team otherwise outplayed for most of the night.
Lamela's industry won the ball back higher up the pitch and got Giovani Lo Celso in possession more often. Unlike Alli, Lo Celso was accurate with his passes, displayed deft touches and wasn't shy about shooting when chances came his way.
Mourinho was full of praise for the Argentina international. The box-to-box midfielder, who initially joined from Real Betis on loan last summer before making a permanent move in January, is "playing really, really well," according to his manager.
The Tottenham chief was also wowed by Lamela's performance: "He did the warm-up in front of the cameras yesterday with the team but zero training sessions and then he played like that."
Mourinho is right to talk up the resiliency and commitment of key members of his squad. Those qualities are essential for a side enduring an injury crisis up front, with strikers Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son both out.
Son could miss the rest of the season after Mourinho offered a bleak prognosis on the South Korea international's fractured arm that requires surgery, per BBC Sport.
Being without Kane and Son increases the pressure on players like winger Lucas Moura and Alli to make the difference in the final third. Goals and assists weren't eluding the 23-year-old when Mourinho replaced Mauricio Pochettino in November.
However, Alli has now scored a mere two goals over his last 16 matches in all competitions. It's a dire run that's come at the worst time for Spurs' threadbare attack.
Alli's frustration is obvious, but Tottenham can't afford to be without him at the moment, no matter how well the gifted Lo Celso performs. Mourinho may need to try a softer approach to get one of his most talented players back on track.