Dele Alli’s brilliance key to ensure Tottenham keep title challenge going

Two thoughts from Tottenham 4-0 Watford in the Premier League on Saturday afternoon.

1. Tottenham refuse to give up on title race

Tottenham piled the pressure on league leaders Chelsea and ensured the return of Harry Kane was an afterthought with a brilliant 4-0 win over Watford at White Hart Lane.

Spurs, on a club record 11 home wins in a row, may not have time to overhaul Chelsea but if they had four or five more matches extra, they would probably be favourites, so relentless is their momentum. This win, their 13th in 16 league games and sixth in a row, was sealed by half-time; Dele Alli, Eric Dier and Son Heung-Min netting before the South Korean added another in the second half.

Kane, who hit the bar from a free kick with the last act of the game, played 30 minutes from the bench after a month out with an ankle injury. Spurs didn’t miss their headline act as the supporting cast staged a goal of the day competition. It was narrowly won by Alli, who broke the deadlock with a stunning curling finish after 33 minutes. Dier then scored for the second time in three matches with a fierce, bouncing drive and Son added two more — a low effort from 25 yards and a first-time volley.

In Kane’s absence, coach Mauricio Pochettino rewarded Vincent Janssen for his fine cameo in Wednesday’s dramatic 3-1 win at Swansea with a start, replacing Moussa Sissoko, while Kieran Trippier came in for Kyle Walker. The visitors were ravaged by injuries and fatigue, which forced top scorer Troy Deeney and former Spurs midfielder Etienne Capoue to the bench. But they started brightly, disrupting the hosts’ rhythm in the opening 15 minutes and forcing Hugo Lloris, back after food poisoning, into routine saves.

The best two chances in the opening stages fell to Janssen, fresh from a decisive and brilliant assist at the Liberty Stadium. The Dutchman rolled his man and forced Heurelho Gomes, back at White Hart Lane, into a low save before a comical miss that summed up his finishing in a Spurs shirt so far. Trippier volleyed the ball across the 6-yard box and Janssen arrived unmarked at the back post. He seemed to misread the bounce and it ricocheted off his knee and agonisingly rolled up his body and on to the bar from 4 yards. He spent the next few minutes looking dazed, perhaps wondering if he would ever score in the Premier League from open play. Not on Saturday; Kane replaced him on the hour.

Spurs soon found their tempo and Mousa Dembele was conductor, as usual. He broke and the ball reached Alli, via Son, and he stepped inside and curled a fabulous angled shot into the far corner from 22 yards. It was the 20-year-old’s 16th goal of the season. The goal knocked the stuffing out of Watford, and Spurs wrapped up the win before halftime, Dier smashing a volley into the ground and past Gomes. Son got in on the act, running into space and shooting into the far corner.

The game was long finished as a contest, and Son made completely sure with a composed volley from Trippier’s cross. He moved on to 11 league goals for the season — Kane and Alli are also in double figures — and has seven in five matches. Son has his flaws — evidenced by two bad misses late on — but is hard to think of a better second striker in the country, despite accusations that Pochettino is too reliant on Kane.

As Spurs fans streamed down the High Road in the afternoon sunshine, attention turned to Chelsea and the title race. Their manager, Antonio Conte, pointed out that Chelsea must win six of their remaining eight games to win the title and with Spurs in this kind of form, there is no margin for error.

2. Dele Alli continues rapid rise

There are players who take matters into their own hands, who grab a game by the haunches and make the difference through individual quality or sheer force of personality.

Alli is one. At Swansea on Wednesday, Tottenham’s title dream looked over with 88 minutes on the clock, but Alli would not allow it and he sparked a remarkable comeback with a timely equaliser, before setting up Christian Eriksen’s third goal. Here, again, Alli was decisive. Spurs do not tend to get frustrated, as the comeback at the Liberty proved, but Watford were making life tricky before his wonderful opening goal changed the course of the afternoon.

At the beginning of the season, Alli set himself the modest target of beating his tally of 10 league goals from last term. He has smashed it. He scored his 19th of the season in all competitions against the Hornets and 10th in 13 matches this year. Alli insists he is still a midfielder but he has now scored in six of the past seven league games (and he really should have scored in the win at Burnley last weekend). He is undoubtedly second striker now.

Alli is, understandably, compared to Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Paul Scholes. But his single-minded hunger for goals makes him more like Cristiano Ronaldo.

For so long, Kane has been Tottenham’s talisman and poster boy — the one player they cannot do without — but they are unbeaten in eight league matches (five wins, three draws) without the England striker this season and they were 4-0 up before he came on. Increasingly, Alli is the most impressive aspect of Pochettino’s entertainers and the only player they could ill afford to lose.

The worry for Spurs is that they will lose him. Gareth Bale scored 21 league goals, prompting Real Madrid to pay a then world-record £85 million for him in 2013, and Alli is on course to better that tally this season.

Of all the talents in world football, he is the most likely to surpass the £89.3m Manchester United paid for Paul Pogba