Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino has admitted taking Dele Alli to one side in an attempt to transmit some of his own placid sensibilities to the tenacious teenage midfielder.
Alli has hurtled from MK Dons to the forefront of Spurs’ title challenge and a place in the England squad in just seven months, although the journey has not been without the odd bump.
Crystal Palace boss Alan Pardew accused Alli of stamping when the teams met last month, while the 19-year-old escaped with a booking for appearing to deliberately kick at Fiorentina’s Nenad Tomovic last week.
The Italian side visit White Hart Lane tonight for the second leg of their Europa League last 32 tie, which is poised at 1-1, and Pochettino revealed he had warned Alli to rein in his spikier side.
“We had a chat and it was very good. He’s very young, he needs to learn. He is a very nice guy, a good person, but he’s very competitive,” said the Tottenham boss.
“He has shown very good maturity against Crystal Palace [on Sunday]. He was calm and he played well. It showed he can learn and improve his behaviour on the pitch.”
Pochettino is without top scorer Harry Kane, who has a broken nose, and groin strain victim Mousa Dembele but can call on goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and attacking midfielder Erik Lamela this evening.
Spurs can progress – and avenge last season’s exit to Fiorentina at the same stage – with a scoreless draw, but the Argentinian is keen that they attempt to win outright rather than rely on away goals.
“We need to approach the game with energy and try to score from the beginning, not think about the result,” he said. “It’s important to feel free in our heads and try to win the game.”
Pochettino also refused to entertain suggestions that elimination could prove a boon to Tottenham’s hopes of overhauling Leicester and seeing off Arsenal and Manchester City in the Premier League title race.
“A victory is always a better impact than when you lose – it’s psychology,” he added. “When you’re happy, you play well, you score goals, it’s important. But football is not mathematic. Sometimes a win won't help in the future.”
Tottenham’s seven-game winning streak ended in Florence last week and Palace inflicted their first defeat in nine games to end their FA Cup ambitions on Sunday.