Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino reckons Dele Alli is being put under too much pressure.
Alli, who Pochettino recently called the best player in the world for his age, has struggled to hit the heights of the last two seasons on a consistent basis this time around.
He played just 22 minutes of England’s two friendlies against Holland and Italy, leading to Gareth Southgate to suggest his starting place at the World Cup was far from certain.
But Pochettino believes his midfielder gets unfair criticism for someone who is still only 21.
The Spurs boss said: “I have full confidence in him and his talent and because I know him – he is a great kid and a very good person.
“But he is young. He is 21. If you compare with normal people on the street who are 21, they are still living at home with their parents, they are still at university doing stupid things.
“Sometimes we expect too much and we put too much pressure on 21-year-old players. Sometimes we forget and treat them like 40-year-old men.
“It’s not like this. We need to be focused on him being still a kid. It’s a lot of pressure on his shoulders and not always can he act how the people and the society expect. That is so important to understand.
“We are going to help him because he is a talented player and a great kid.
“And he has done a lot for us and the club.
“The problem is that in the last two seasons, he was unbelievable, amazing.
“Younger players always have ups and downs. Expectation was massive because he was always increasing his level and improving and improving.
“This season the expectation was massive, maybe too high.
“For me he is one of the most talented players in Europe.”
Pochettino could do with Alli regaining his best form as Spurs prepare for the run-in to the season that has them going for Champions League qualification and the FA Cup.
A potentially pivotal game in the race for the top four comes at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, where if Spurs beat Chelsea they will go eight points ahead of them.
And if they are to end a 28-year hoodoo at Chelsea then they might have to do it without leading scorer Harry Kane.
Pochettino was coy whether the striker would be available, just three weeks after injuring ankle ligaments, unable to say definitively whether he would be fit or not.
There was no doubt in Pochettino’s mind just what a battler Kane is.
“It’s not about his body, it’s about his brain,” the Argentine added.
“The most important muscle that he has is his brain. He’s so determined, so positive.”
Tottenham have shown they can cope without injured star striker Harry Kane, according to Chelsea boss Antonio Conte.
England international Kane is a major doubt for Spurs’ Premier League trip to Stamford Bridge after sustaining ankle ligament damage three weeks ago.
The 24-year-old was expected to be sidelined until at least next month, but Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino has refused to rule him out of Sunday’s clash.
While Conte is full of admiration for Kane, he feels Spurs are dangerous opponents with or without their top goalscorer.
“I think that we are talking about one of the best strikers in the world. I consider him one of the best strikers in the world,” said Conte.
“When you have a player, a striker, who scores 30 goals every season, for sure when he’s missing you can feel this. But, at the same time, Tottenham are an important team for the whole team.
“They have many important players, many talented players. They play good football with great intensity. Also, in the past, they showed that, despite Kane missing many games, nothing has changed.”
Kane, winner of the Premier League golden boot for the past two seasons, has been in prolific form once again this campaign.
He hit 35 goals for Spurs in all competitions before his injury in the recent win at Bournemouth. Chelsea’s strikers, in contrast, have struggled to find the net on a regular basis.
Alvaro Morata has not managed a Premier League goal since Boxing Day, while January signing Olivier Giroud is still waiting for his first league strike since joining from Arsenal.
Morata’s poor form saw him left out of Spain’s squad during the international break, although Conte has backed the former Real Madrid player to enjoy a productive end to the season.
“I think that, in the last week and this week, he has worked very well,” the Italian coach said of Morata.
“I think that he needed to work hard because, don’t forget, Alvaro was out for one and a half months with his back problem.
“Now Alvaro is really fit, 100 per cent, and ready to have an important final of the season: for Chelsea and then, for him, to have the chance to go and play in the World Cup.”
While Spurs are hoping Kane can make a remarkable comeback, Chelsea also have injury concerns regarding key players.
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois faces a late assessment on a hamstring problem picked up before he went away with Belgium, while centre-back Andreas Christensen was sent back to west London by Denmark due to muscle fatigue.
Conte also confirmed he will definitely be without defender David Luiz for at least another three weeks because of a knee issue and that midfielder Ross Barkley will play with the under-23 side this weekend to improve his fitness.
Courtois did not feature for Belgium during the international break because of a hamstring problem, while defender Christensen was sent back by Denmark after struggling with muscle fatigue.
Both are serious doubts for Sunday’s match at Stamford Bridge, where a defeat could prove fatal to Chelsea’s hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.
“We have two big problems – Courtois and Christensen – and we have to check the real possibility to play, and then to play well,” said Conte on Thursday.
“The most important thing is to be available but, at the same time, to have the right physical condition to play a good game. Otherwise I have to make a different decision.
“At this moment for me it’s very difficult to tell you with accuracy which is my choice for Sunday because we have to check these two situations.”
Should Courtois fail to be fit, new Argentina international Willy Caballero would be his obvious replacement, while Gary Cahill could come in for Christensen.
Centre-back Cahill has fallen down the pecking order under Conte this season and was left out of Gareth Southgate’s latest England squad.
He looks to be the only other option available to his club manager, with David Luiz ruled out with a knee injury.
“David Luiz is out at least for another three weeks. He’s recovering from a problem in his knee,” said Conte.
Conte’s champions are playing catch-up in the race for a top-four finish but victory this weekend would cut the gap to fourth-placed Spurs to two points with seven matches to play.
While Courtois and Christensen may yet be available against Mauricio Pochettino’s men, midfielder Ross Barkley will definitely be absent.
The January signing is scheduled to play in a reserve game this weekend in his attempts to return to full fitness.