Spurs’ Dele Alli insists he improved last season despite fewer goals and assists

• Tottenham midfielder endured injury-hit campaign
• ‘Defensively, in possession, I’ve improved on that,’ says Alli

Dele Alli insists he became a better player last season despite his overall numbers – appearances, goals and assists – suggesting otherwise.

The midfielder endured a stop-start campaign for club and country owing to hamstring and thigh muscle injuries. He featured 38 times in all competitions for Tottenham, scoring seven goals and assisting a further eight, compared with 50 appearances, 14 goals and 17 assists during the 2017-18 season.

Alli also missed a number of important games for England, including October’s 3-2 victory away to Spain in the Nations League, and, to cap things off, played the recent matches against the Netherlands and Switzerland with a cast on his left hand having injured it in a collision with Fabian Delph during Spurs’s 1-0 victory over Manchester City in the Champions League at the start of April.

Given all of that, the 23-year-old could be forgiven for wanting to forget about the past nine months. Instead, he is happy to focus on the positives. “It’s been a great season for learning for me,” he said. “It’s been the first when I’ve had muscle injuries, so that was difficult but I’ve kept working hard.

“I haven’t scored as many goals or got as many assists but other parts of my game, defensively, in possession, not just getting on the end of things and finishing chances, I think I’ve improved on that. So next season, hopefully, it will all come together and I’ll get the goals, assists and keep the other parts of my game in the build up play.”

Alli’s various absences from the international scene, alongside a drop-off in performance compared with those he delivered at the World Cup, has put into doubt his place in England’s starting XI. The player accepts he now faces a fight to hold down a regular berth, especially given the improvement and emergence of younger players such as Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi, but he is up for the challenge.

“Nobody can get too comfortable,” Alli said. “We’ve got Ruben and Cal who have had some bad injuries but I’m sure they will come back stronger. They are great players. The squad, the starting 11 isn’t secure, everyone wants to keep working hard and that’s important to keep pushing on as a team.

“Every game you play you want to get into the starting 11 and into the team, but you know if you take your foot off the gas there’s players, even in the under-21 and who are doing well at the clubs, who are ready so you have to keep working hard.”

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Alli now heads into a summer break, although it will be a short one because of his need to fully recover. “I have a schedule from the club and it’s important I keep ticking over,” he said. “I’ll put my feet up for a week or so,then back to work and make sure I’m ready for pre-season.”

Asked about his cast, Alli added: “Delph’s head broke my hand. They said I could have had an operation when it first happened but I would have had to miss a few weeks. It’s not fully healed yet but this was the last game they said I’d need the cast. I won’t need the op, it’s healing well.”