Dele Alli compared with all-time Premier League goal creators before turning 22
Last Updated: 11/04/18 6:14pm
Dele Alli turned 22 on Wednesday, three years after signing for Tottenham in a £5m deal from League One MK Dons - but how does he compare to the Premier League's all-time goal creators before their 22nd birthdays?
Alli adapted effortlessly to England's top flight, earning an England call-up after just seven Premier League appearances - ending 2015/16 with 10 league goals and nine assists.
His goal involvement soared last season, scoring 18 league goals and claiming another nine assists. However, he has struggled to maintain that exponential goal rate this term, with eight goals and 11 assists from 31 games.
That decline, coupled with being ousted from the England starting line-up for recent friendly matches against the Netherlands and Italy, increased scrutiny for performances perceived to be below par.
But Alli hit back at critics. "Every player is different [in dealing with criticism], I think it's all about your focus, what your focus is. Some people might focus a lot on what people are saying about them, which can take the focus away from the football. It can impact you.
"I've never worried too much about what people think. If you have confidence in yourself, you know yourself, better than anyone, when you have that, what other people say, automatically you are numb to it."
His first touch in professional football, as a 16-year-old for MK Dons, epitomises that natural confidence: a back-heel pass in an FA Cup tie against Cambridge City.
His second professional appearance was in the return leg - he scored a long-range screamer. At 18, he nutmegged Real Madrid's Luka Modric in a pre-season friendly for Tottenham.
Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino also rallied behind his midfield maestro earlier this month: "The problem is that in the last two seasons, he was unbelievable, amazing.
"Younger players always have ups and downs. Expectation was massive because he was always increasing his level and improving and improving.
"This season the expectation was massive, maybe too high. For me, he is one of the most talented players in Europe."
That backing came after Alli silenced critics with a match-winning double at Chelsea - having also scored and assisted in the 4-1 win at Bournemouth a week earlier.
Against Stoke, last weekend, Alli showed ice-cool composure on the edge of the box to ignore a tracked run, instead, waiting to assist an incoming Christian Eriksen.
So how does the 22-year-old compare with the Premier League's elite goal creators - past and present - before they reached their 22nd birthdays?
As the table above shows, Alli ranks sixth for all-time goal creation in the Premier League, behind only Robbie Fowler (97), Michael Owen (94), Wayne Rooney (90), Chris Sutton (68) and Cesc Fabregas (63).
Among the list, only Fabregas and Alli operate, or operated, in central midfield, but while Fabregas leads Alli by one goal, the Spurs player has only played 101 Premier League games - compared with the Spaniard's 157 at the point of turning 22.
Per 90 minutes, Alli actually ranks fourth with 0.61 goals involvements per game, behind only Fowler (0.71), Owen (0.70) and Sutton (0.62).
In fact, no other midfielder comes close to Alli's ratio, which, incidentally, dwarfs Cristiano Ronaldo (0.44) during his fledgling years at Manchester United.
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Will Alli help Tottenham inflict a second successive league defeat upon champions-elect Manchester City? Watch Tottenham v Manchester City live on Sky Sports Premier League from 7pm on Saturday.