It was a busy transfer deadline day for Everton who not only appointed legendary midfielder Frank Lampard as their new manager but also made a pair of midfield signings to bolster their options in the center of the park. The first of these acquisitions was Donny van de Beek, who arrived from Manchester United on a loan deal until the end of the season. The second signing was quite a shock to the footballing world, as Dele Alli, who prefers simply “Dele”, completed a permanent transfer to the blue half of Merseyside, bringing his 7-year stint at Tottenham Hotspur to an end. The deal initially involves no transfer fee, but rather requires that Everton pay hefty bonuses to the North London club as the attacking-midfielder reaches certain milestones, the first of which is a £10 million payment once the England international reaches 20 appearances for the Toffees.
It’s no secret that Dele has long been a shell of the generational talent he once was, and so the signing is definitely a risk for Farhad Moshiri & co considering the massive unknown surrounding which Dele they will really be getting. And so, in this article, I will be analysing and answering four key questions about Dele and his deadline day move to Everton.
What Does Dele Look Like at His Best?
Firstly, let’s take a trip down memory lane and rewind to the beginning of Dele’s meteoric rise to footballing stardom. The then 19-year old was purchased by Tottenham from his boyhood club MK Dons for just under £6 million in January of 2015 but spent the rest of the season on loan at the League One club. When he permanently made the switch to White Hart Lane, he hit the ground running, starting 28 Premier League games, scoring 10 goals, and assisting a further 9 in his first season in the top flight. His next season would be his best to date, as he scored an astounding 18 goals from midfield and assisted a further 7 in 35 Premier League starts. He was a sensation and, naturally, was linked with top clubs across Europe such as Real Madrid, for example. Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy once stated that Spurs would not sell Dele for any fee, even £150 million. Dele won consecutive PFA Young Player of the Year awards and was considered one of the best young players in the world.
So, what made Dele so great? In other words, how did he become so prolific in the heart of Pochettino’s side? Well, among other things, he was able to execute two particular attacking strategies with incredible success. As Tifo Football put it, “Reviewing his goals, it’s clear that while he’s capable of acting as a penalty-box predator with strong physical presence and a deft touch, he’s at his most dangerous when running onto through passes”. Let’s look at some examples of his penalty-box prowess and his ability to score from long balls.
Firstly, it’s common knowledge that Dele, at his best, played almost as a second striker for Spurs, using his stature and efficient finishing to score from inside the box. In fact, he scored only 3 of his 67 goals for Tottenham from outside the box, one of which was his infamous Goal of the Season-winning volley at Selhurst Park. He is well-adept at finishing with his head, with his two-headed goals against Chelsea at White Hart Lane in 2017 serving as great examples. Here is the first of the two:
Secondly, but more pertinently, Dele was exceptional at latching onto the end of, and finishing off, long through balls from his Spurs teammates. His exceptionally taken goal back in 2016 against the club he has now joined is a great example:
Other examples include his goal at the Hawthorns in his first season with Spurs and his first goal at Stamford Bridge in their 2017/18 victory over London rivals Chelsea.
As shown by the quality of these goals, and many others that I haven’t mentioned, it’s clear just how good Dele was during his first three years at Spurs, and it’s honestly quite shocking that his career is where it is now considering just how much talent and promise he showed on a weekly basis under Mauricio Pochettino’s tutelage. Although it has been downhill overall for the English international since the Argentinian’s dismissal, he showed glimpses of his former self under Jose Mourinho, and Frank Lampard will sure be hoping he can help Dele recover the form that once made him one of the brightest talents in the world.
What Does “Lampard-Ball” Look Like?
Speaking of Lampard, his appointment as the new manager of Everton after the much-maligned Rafael Benitez’s sacking was a major factor in Dele’s agreement to join the Toffees, and it will now be up to the Chelsea legend to rekindle his passion and success. Lampard enters the vacancy at Goodison Park with just two other managerial positions on his resume; firstly his one-season stint as the boss of Derby County in the Championship, and most recently his season and a half in the dugout at his former club Chelsea. I’d like to focus on the former.
Just this morning I was listening to the American Toffee Podcast’s episode about the appointment of Frank Lampard, and co-host Ryan Williams (@RyanSoccerAA on Twitter) was discussing how Lampard revolutionized Derby’s style of play in his single campaign there. He described how the club finished 6th in the Championship and lost in the Playoff Semi-Finals under Gary Rowett in the season before Lampard arrived, and although Lampard also steered them to 6th (but managed to reach the Playoff-Final), he did so in an entirely different way. Rowett’s Derby side was 18th out of 24 in the Championship for average possession, with 46.7% per match, and was 23rd in PPDA (passes per defensive action), which is a measure of pressing intensity. Lampard’s side, on the contrary, finished 6th in possession, with 54% on average, and 3rd in PPDA. His team not only kept the ball much more than that of his predecessor, but they also worked harder to win it back when they lost it, entering into far more duels and registering significantly higher tackle and interception numbers.
Lampard now finds himself in a similar position, as Everton thus far this season rank 18th in the Premier League for average possession with a disgustingly low 41.1%, and so Lampard will yet again be tasked with turning a low-block heavy counter-attacking side into one that seeks to control the ball and vigorously press the opposition. This time, however, he will not have a whole off-season, and an army of Chelsea loanees, to undergo this transformation, and immediate results will be extremely important considering the Toffees currently sit just 4 points above the relegation zone.
Luckily for Frank, Dele, despite registering extremely low attacking productivity in the last 365 days, is still an adept presser for an attacking midfielder:
Despite his concerningly minimal output going forward, it’s clear that Dele can still put in hard yards and win the ball back for his side. Lampard will need him to keep these good numbers up and increase those which are lacking in order to effectively transition Everton away from Rafa Benitez’s horribly negative tactics and into a more modern and expansive style of football.
How Might Lampard Utilize Dele?
Although some have questioned just how tactically astute Lampard really is, it doesn’t take a genius to see that Everton’s current midfield crop cannot be employed in pairs, and so we will likely see the new boss employ either a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation as to avoid that. In his 4-3-3 set up at both Derby County and Chelsea, Lampard employed Mason Mount on the left-side of the three, and the young Englishman was encouraged to make penetrating runs into and around the penalty box. I’d be very surprised if Dele were not given these same instructions, as although he is not as vibrant nor as ruthless as Mount these days, I’ve already shown exactly what he can do when running in behind.
While at Spurs, Dele benefited greatly from the long-passing abilities of his teammates, particularly Toby Alderweireld and even more so Christian Eriksen, both of whom provided countless assists for Dele with piercing balls over the top. Looking at Everton’s squad, there is a distinct lack of creativity, especially considering Lucas Digne’s recent switch to Villa Park. With James Rodriguez and *cough* Gylfi Sigurdsson no longer options for Everton, Michael Keane seems like the most likely source of over-the-top through balls for Dele to get on the end of. Keane likely has the skillset to take over Alderweireld’s duties on this front, as long passing is one of if not the former Burnley-man’s best attributes. The real question mark comes up when you consider who in Everton’s squad could possibly fill Eriksen’s boots, as the Dane’s superb deliveries assisted Dele on 12 of his 51 Premier League goals; nearly 25%. Fellow Deadline Day arrival Donny Van De Beek certainly has a lovely range of passing, but it seems unlikely that he will be the one whipping in dangerous crosses from the flanks for Dele to guide goalwards, and so it will be up to the likes of Demarai Gray and Anthony Gordon, among others, to provide the ingenuity and precision required to get the best out of their new colleague.
Considering Lampard knew immediately upon his arrival that he wanted to bring Dele through the doors at Finch Farm, he must have some sort of plan to unlock the 25-year old and make him a key part of a side desperate for points and security. I highly doubt he’ll play Van De Beek as the #10 in a 4-2-3-1 with Dele as one of the sitting midfielders, considering managers attempting to make him play deeper is one of the main reasons that he has fallen off at the same velocity with which he rose to fame. It’s possible that Dele could find himself at the #10 with a second-striker type role playing off of Calvert-Lewin as he once did Kane, but Van De Beek and Allan/Doucoure as a sitting two seems suspect. A midfield three in a 4-3-3 of Dele, Van De Beek, and Allan/Doucoure also seems vulnerable defensively, so I doubt that will be the plan either. I’m very uncertain as to how, if at all, Lampard will be able to fit both of these new signings into his side at the same time, but I do believe that figuring out the correct way to assort that jigsaw could be key to fixing some of the issues that have been haunting the Blues all season.
What Is My Overall Assessment of the Transfer?
I don’t mind it. I’ve really surprised myself by writing that considering my takes about Dele on my Twitter account (@ParrettGost) over the past few months, but I do believe that Goodison Park could be an environment conducive to a re-invigoration of his career. He will be managed by the greatest attacking midfielder in Premier League history, one of the greatest full-stop even, and enters a side with plenty of talented players around him, all of whom are hungry to rescue Everton’s season and prove a point to the footballing world. Is my inevitable yet foolish Evertonian optimism part of why I say that? Almost certainly, although the structure of the deal also makes sense for Everton. Since he is cup-tied, Dele will not be able to reach the 20-appearance mark which triggers the first £10 million of his transfer fee until the beginning of the 2022/23 season in August, meaning not a penny of the fee will be attributed to Everton’s books for this fiscal year. Although a maximum fee after bonuses of £40 million has been reported, the achievements required to trigger those clauses are highly unlikely to be reached within the limited time span of the contract. As of now, we don’t know what weekly wage Dele has been offered as a part of his two-and-a-half-year deal, but I’d assume it’s somewhere around £100k-a-week. The deal could be much, much worse. I’m honestly excited to see Dele play in the royal blue, and the idea of him linking up with Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison, Demarai Gray, and Anthony Gordon is seriously exciting. If he can rekindle anything anywhere close to the form he had under Pochettino, it will go a long way to help Everton not only rise above a relegation scrap but also look to a future under Frank Lampard.
And so, the big question remains: Will Dele’s move to Everton revitalize his career or finish it? I really don’t know, but it sure will be an interesting answer to discover.