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Dele Alli acrobatics help Tottenham tame Wolfsberger and reach last 16

David Hytner at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Getty Images

It was a night when José Mourinho wanted victory, a cohesive performance and a confidence booster for the critical run of Premier League fixtures that comes next. The Tottenham manager got the former, even if there was little doubt he would do so against the minnows that sit fifth in the Austrian Bundesliga.

As for the rest, it was not Spurs at their slickest and most energetic, although it is difficult to put bodies on the line when a Europa League tie is effectively over after a 4-1 first‑leg away win. But there was the tonic of genuine cutting edge from Dele Alli and the latest evidence that Gareth Bale can feel a return of the old rhythms.

Related: Borussia Mönchengladbach v Manchester City: Champions League last-16 – live!

Alli added a magnificent overhead kick to his back catalogue of classic goals while he contributed two assists; the first for Carlos Vinicius and the second for Bale, who had come on as a 69th-minute substitute. Bale swept on to Alli’s pass and bent a first-time left-footer into the far, top corner.

Mourinho introduced three youngsters and one of them, the striker Dane Scarlett, won the ball high up for Vinicius to add his second to seal a cakewalk into the last 16. There were debuts for Marcel Lavinier at right‑back and Nile John in midfield.

Mourinho said that Scarlett, who became the first 16-year-old to produce a Europa League assist since Kylian Mbappé, was an “immense talent” and would be a first-team squad member next season but it is Alli who stands to provide the more immediate uplift. Spurs face a run of three league games in eight days, against Burnley, Fulham and Crystal Palace. Having taken 11 points from their previous 12 top-flight fixtures, they must stop the rot.

Carlos Vinicius, with his eyes closed, scores Tottenham&#x002019;s second goal with a header in the 4-0 win over Wolfsberger.
Carlos Vinicius scores Tottenham’s second goal with a header in the 4-0 win over Wolfsberger. Photograph: Getty Images

“I’m not going to talk about Dele’s goal – everybody saw it – but the globality of the performance is what mattered,” Mourinho said. “He had an injury [in January] and, at the same time, talk, talk, talk about staying or leaving. The market closed, the injury went and he started working with motivation. To have Dele back at this level is amazing.”

The defender Eric Dier said: “Everyone has a short memory in football and maybe they have forgotten Dele’s quality. Tonight he has reminded people of that.”

Alli’s showstopper came on 10 minutes and, when he touched Matt Doherty’s cross down into the ground with his studs and watched it bounce high, he looked in consumate control of the situation, his mind making the calculations in a heartbeat. With his back to goal close to the penalty spot, it was a difficult skill to execute; the angle of connection to direct the ball inside the goalkeeper’s right-hand post needed to be perfect. It was.

Related: Tottenham Hotspur v Wolfsberger: Europa League last 32 – live!

Spurs made heavy weather of getting through Wolfsberger in the first half, with Vinicius blowing a one‑on-one in the 44th minute, having fastened on to Erik Lamela’s throughball and danced around the goalkeeper with a lovely move. He could not get the needed precision on the finish and Gustav Henriksson slid back to clear off the line.

To Mourinho’s irritation, there were moments of defensive looseness and he shouted accusingly at his players when Michael Liendl was allowed to touch goalwards from a low cross on 35 minutes. Joe Hart saved easily. The substitute Dejan Joveljic was wasteful with two chances after the interval.

Mourinho wanted greater intensity in the second half but there would be a let-off before things got better. Cheikhou Dieng chased a long ball in on goal and he had the position on Dier, who leaned into him just outside the area, sending him over. It looked like a foul and a possible red card for Dier.

To Wolfsberger’s fury there was no whistle, and moments later Spurs were 2-0 up when Alli dropped a cross over Luka Lochoshvili for Vinicius to head down and in at the far post. It was the prompt for them to ease to victory.

Lamela and Alli went close; Bale and Vinicius did not miss.