Dele Alli has admitted he is working on keeping his temper “under control” after he was handed a three-match ban for the horror tackle that saw him sent off in Europe last month.
The Tottenham Hotspur midfielder was on the receiving end of a series of heavy challenges during England’s 2-0 win over Lithuania on Sunday, but did not react to the provocation.
It marked a welcome change from his previous appearance at Wembley, against Gent in the Europa League, when his response to being bundled over was to launch himself into a reckless tackle for which he received a straight red card.
The 20-year-old has long insisted he will not curb his aggression on the pitch, but he accepted the way he reacts to those situations is an aspect of his game that needs improving.
“There has been a lot said about me and my aggression,” he said. “But it is not something I am going to look to change.
“But I have got to keep improving and learning. Not to play with less aggression, but how I react in different situations is something I am looking to improve. I have been working on it - hopefully people can see that.
“That’s the player I am and I’ve always been like that since I was younger. It’s about getting it under control and I think I have been doing that.”
Alli has grown used to being targeted on the pitch ever since he broke through into the MK Dons first team as a 17-year-old.
“It’s something that has happened since I was at Milton Keynes,” he said. “There were a lot of players that put in hard tackles there so it’s something I am used to now. It’s something I enjoy and if it’s going to help the team and get us free-kicks then I don’t mind it.
“You can see when a player is coming in. You have to be prepared to ride a tackle, or get away from one, to keep going and go forward with the team. Sometimes it can benefit the team if [opposition] players dive in.”
Alli learned last week that he faces a three-match European ban that could mean he misses half of Tottenham’s group stage games in the Champions League next season if they qualify for the competition.
UEFA decided to add two extra matches to his minimum one-game suspension for the severity of his challenge on Gent midfielder Brecht Dejaegere as Tottenham were eliminated from the Europa League.
“It was a horrible moment for me, and something I have learned from straight away,” he said. “I felt horrible straight after the game. What’s done is done, I just have to move on forward as much as I can and keep on improving.”
Alli added that he has been forced to recalibrate his goalscoring targets for the season after thriving in an attacking position at club level.
“I set myself a target of 15 at the start of the season,” he said. “I have got to 17 now, with 14 in the league, so I am definitely going to try to get to 20.”