Dele Alli has the mean streak that most top footballers possess but sooner or later it is going to get him into trouble.
The England midfielder showed against Fiorentina why he is one of the brightest talents in European football, illuminating the opening 45 minutes with his speed, vision and skill. He was also lucky to stay on the field.
Nacer Chadli’s first-half penalty was cancelled out by Federico Bernardeschi’s 30-yard strike after the interval for the hosts, who believed they should have been playing against ten men from the half-hour mark. That was when Alli seemed to kick Nenad Tomovic off the ball when it looked easier to jump over the Fiorentina defender.
As Tomovic raged, Alli was booked by the German Felix Zwayer. Another referee might have been more severe. As it is, Alli will be available for a second leg at White Hart Lane next week that should give Tottenham the perfect opportunity for revenge.
A year ago, Fiorentina knocked out Spurs at this stage of the competition, winning the second leg here 2-0 to claim a 3-1 aggregate success.
The atmosphere for this first leg was, however, considerably more subdued, and the action during the early stages matched it.
With six changes from the team who won 2-1 at Manchester City last weekend, Spurs took a little time to find their stride. Michel Vorm replaced the injured Hugo Lloris in goal, and Harry Kane was left on the bench as Chadli played as a lone forward, though it was Heung-Min Son who had his team’s first opportunity. The South Korean wasted a good shooting chance in the 22nd minutes and Tomovic cleared the danger.
Soon afterwards, Christian Eriksen’s swerving 30-yard shot was pushed over by Ciprian Tatarusanu, prior to the incident for which Alli might have been dismissed.
With the ball out of play, Alli’s appeared to aim a kick at Tomovic, who was lying on the ground. The Fiorentina defender was furious, believing the midfielder had acted deliberately.
Tino Costa seemed to be seeking retribution for when he aimed an elbow towards Alli’s throat long after the ball had gone – but by then, Tottenham were a goal up.
Tomovic again felt hard done by when referee Zwayer ruled he had tripped the overlapping Ben Davies, and Chadli sent Tatarusanu the wrong way from the penalty spot. The luck was running the way of Tottenham, who were also awarded dubious spot-kicks against Norwich and City this month.
Either side of the penalty, Fiorentina missed two superb chances. Between them, Bernardeschi and Mauro Zarate, who moved to Florence from West Ham last month, somehow failed to convert Josip Ilicic’s tempting cross from the right. Then, in the final minute of the half, Zarate shot over from 15 yards after Jakub Blaszczykowski’s low delivery bounced off Ryan Mason and into his path.
Fiorentina began the second half as they had ended the first. Bernardeschi sent Marcos Alonso clear down the left and when the Spaniard sent in a near-post cross, Kevin Wimmer did well to deny Zarate and concede a corner.
Back came Spurs. Mousa Dembele, who had replaced Tom Carroll at half-time, combined with Alli to set up Chadli, who eluded Gonzalo Rodriguez before his effort was turned behind by Tatarusanu.
It proved an important save. When Bernardeschi collected the ball 30 yards from goal, there appeared little danger. The Italy Under-21 international’s left-foot shot clipped Mason and deceived Vorm, the ball skimming the underside of the crossbar before going in.
Perhaps Spurs should have had another penalty, or at least a foul, when Alli was body-checked by Rodriguez at the limit of the area. At that stage, though, the visitors were struggling to stop Fiorentina’s frequent surges into their territory.
Three minutes from full-time, Alli had the chance to cause Fiorentina more pain, but his far-post volley from Kieran Trippier’s cross was too high. Fiorentina responded again, Zarate’s 20-yard drive bringing a fine save from Vorm, and Rodriguez heading the resulting corner just wide.
Zarate’s influence had grown and he tested Vorm again with a dipping volley, but Fiorentina could not find a winner. Kane, on as a substitute, was accused by Fiorentina of an elbow on Rodriguez.
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