Like many England youngsters that have come before him, Dele Alli is capable of the spectacular and winning games on his own.
The Tottenham midfielder exploded onto the Premier League scene in the 2015/16 season after moving from hometown team MK Dons as a teenager. Barring injury, Alli will surpass 100 top-flight appearances before the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia in a career which is still so full of future promise.
At 21 (turning 22 in April), Alli has still to realise his full potential, yet this season he hasn’t been as prolific in the Premier League as his previous two campaigns. Such a relative downturn in form has led some commentators to doubt whether his place in Gareth Southgate’s England starting XI is secure.
While Alli has it all to do if he is replicate last term’s goal return of 22 across all competitions in the final months of the club campaign, other attacking players on the Three Lions roster are catching the eye with their teams. Raheem Sterling has rapidly improved his finishing at Manchester City and is now finding the net regularly.
Across town at Manchester United, meanwhile, Jesse Lingard continues to impress now given plenty of starts by Jose Mourinho and now in a central position. Could he displace Alli in the England team at the World Cup finals?
Either Sterling or Lingard could start in an attacking midfield role, although the former is shining out wide for City. On the other hand, it is easy to accommodate them alongside Alli in the same Three Lions line-up as supporting cast members behind a lone striker.
This and the fact Alli links up well with Spurs clubmate recently crowned England player of the year Harry Kane suggest a starting spot for his country is not under threat. If football odds on who will make the World Cup squad are any indicator, Alli remains one of the first names on the teamsheet and of those selected by Southgate for Russia.
International prestige friendlies with notable World Cup finals absentees the Netherlands and Italy in March afford opportunities to experiment. If Alli isn’t named in the starting line-up for one or both of these games, then we shouldn’t read too much into it. He played in eight qualifiers on the road to Russia and started seven of those, which is further evidence to suggest Alli is key to Southgate’s plans.
Perhaps it is his partnership with prolific Premier League goalscorer Kane at club level that means the duo are likely to reprise their link-up as starters in Russia. Alli has already made plenty of assists for the Tottenham marksman, so they are often on the same wavelength.
The only real danger to Alli’s World Cup prospects is an England fringe player forcing themselves into the picture. Even in this respect, though, there is no immediate reason for him to be looking over his shoulder.
Arsenal playmaker Jack Wilshere has a poor fitness record and hasn’t been capped for his country since Euro 2016 as a result. Chelsea winter window recruit Ross Barkley also last played for England under Southgate’s predecessor Roy Hodgson.
Given how Barkley was frozen out at Everton, then injured and is coming back to fitness following his modest January transfer to Stamford Bridge, he doesn’t give Alli much cause to be nervous at this stage. Barkley has it all to prove on moving to London.
Adam Lallana, meanwhile, must get back in the Liverpool team regularly despite the departure of Philippe Coutinho before he can think about another tournament with England after missing six World Cup qualifiers through injury.
Is Dele Alli’s World Cup starting spot in doubt? Barring any injuries, the short answer is no.