Dele Alli shows glimpse of form as Everton seek ways to replace Richarlison

Dele Alli celebrates after scoring against Blackpool

After the miss in Minnesota came the brace in Blackpool. An open goal was squandered but two were scored. A change of continent may have brought a change of luck for Dele Alli. After perhaps the worst miss of his life came his first goals in an Everton shirt, albeit in unofficial capacity. They should have arrived earlier. His twin strikes came not in the Twin Cities but on the Fylde Coast. Everton, embarrassed 4-0 by Minnesota on Wednesday, beat Blackpool 4-2 on Sunday.

Time will tell which is the more accurate marker for his and their season. Certainly the more memorable result came in the Midwest, not England’s west coast, just Alli’s glaring miss in the United States – the ball hitting his heel when he had a tap-in – is more likely to linger in the mind than two close-range finishes, one still simpler, at Bloomfield Road. It lent itself to the kind of clip made for social media, as though designed as an encapsulation of the decline of a seemingly once-in-a-generation talent.

Maybe it is a microcosm, maybe an irrelevant error in a pre-season friendly. “I was kicking myself after the chance I had in the other game but it was a chance to put that right,” Alli said after a belated return to the scoresheet. A week brought a form of redemption. It is a broader quest, trying to rebound after hitting rock bottom: in that context a double could feel significant. At his peak, he scored two goals in a game against Real Madrid, but he hasn’t struck twice in any competitive match since 2019.

Two predatory finishes amount to half of Everton’s pre-season goals. The first, courtesy of Vitalii Mykolenko’s low cutback, came from about a yard. The second was a better finish, turned in from a cross from the other wing-back, Nathan Patterson, after a well-timed run to the near post.

They were reminders Alli was the type of attacking midfielder who tended to score the sort of goals more normally associated with strikers. So did his manager. “They are goals I want to see from him,” said Frank Lampard. “It was a trademark of his as he broke through at Tottenham for a number of seasons and we all know what has happened in between but if he is going to get back to the best of what we want from him he has to arrive into those areas and score those kind of goals.”

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Lampard tends to be measured in his comments about Alli, as if trying to prevent anyone from getting carried away by the prospect of a revival. “I saw some good things there,” he said. “But he also has to work on his general play and be part of the team and understand what we are trying to do.”

Rebuilding Alli has been a gradual affair, with his regular presence on the bench last season underlining that there has been no swift way back to his best. The greatest encouragement came from a cameo that may have altered Everton’s history: he came on at 2-0 down to Crystal Palace and ended up man of the match, a galvanising force in a seismic comeback that kept them up.

It featured Richarlison’s last Everton goal and now he is gone, sold to Tottenham for £60m. A search for a successor has been a slow-burner. Interest in Armando Broja, Maxwel Cornet and Morgan Gibbs-White has not yet brought any to Goodison Park. No deal is close. “We want to bring in players that can help fill that void,” Lampard said.

Richarlison was the only Everton player to score more than five league goals last season, a statistic that helps explain their difficulties. Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who ended an injury-hit campaign with the goal that kept Everton up, missed the Blackpool game, though his participation for the start of the season is not in doubt. Alli operated largely off the left of a 3-4-3 formation but spent around a quarter of an hour as a striker after Salomon Rondon went off.

In short, he played in the roles the departed Brazilian tended to occupy. Lampard preferred not to burden Alli with the task of replacing Richarlison. “It has to be a collective, of losing Richy and what he brought to the side, it has to be not just Dele,” he said. “We have to be more clinical and get in goalscoring areas.” That used to be Alli’s forte. He has got into scoring positions in his last two matches. And in one of them, he has found the target.

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