Mauricio Pochettino believes Dele Alli will recapture his best form but feels the “massive” pressure on the player is sometimes unfair.

The Tottenham attacking midfielder has been criticised for his performances during 2019, most recently by former Manchester United captain Roy Keane, who accused the England international of losing his “hunger”.

Pochettino accepts Alli has not been playing at his best, but the Spurs manager has warned people not to expect too much from a player who is still in the early part of his career.

“We need to remember that Dele is so young and the demand, the pressure on him is massive,” Pochettino told reporters on Friday. “Everyone expects big things: he’s English, he’s an international, but he’s still 23 years old.

“He was fantastic, and of course he dropped a little bit in his performance, but we need to help and to back him, not to pay attention too much and try to improve and be strong again.”

Pochettino’s side head to Everton on Sunday having won only three of 13 matches in all competitions since they beat Aston Villa 3-1 on the opening day of the Premier League season.

They took an early lead against Liverpool last weekend but could not withstand the pressure from the leaders, eventually losing 2-1 to drop to 11th in the table.

However, Pochettino is calling for his players to be positive as they look to get their season back on track.

“It was an important week to recover feelings after a tough game against Liverpool,” Pochettino said. “It was important again to create that atmosphere that you want. It’s a situation that only we can fix, winning games.

“We need to be positive – that positivity makes us believe we can beat any team. At the moment, we struggle a little bit, we drop a lot in our confidence. The most important thing is how we’re going to finish. It’s not nice to see yourself in the middle of the table, but that is our reality and we need to accept it. If you do not accept reality, you’re going to struggle.

“In our minds, we know very well we need time, to be strong, be solid, and start winning because that’s going to be the best thing for us.”

Giovani Lo Celso came on as a substitute against Liverpool and will hope for more minutes at Goodison Park as he continues to recover from a hip injury sustained on international duty in September.

The midfielder was called up to the Argentina squad for this month’s matches against Brazil and Uruguay, and Pochettino admits he is “not happy” at the prospect of him being involved.

“In general, always managers want players at home,” Pochettino said. “For him, it’s going to be tough because, again, when he’s nearly fit to start again, he needs to go away and changing the dynamic of the training session, something can happen.

“Being honest, I am not happy, but I accept [it] because I always defend the national team and I always back the decision of the national team. I was a player – I know how it feels to play for your flag. What can I do? Nothing, only to show or describe my feelings.”

Ryan Sessegnon may also hope to be involved against Everton, having yet to feature since his move from Fulham, but Pochettino is wary of rushing him back from a long-term hamstring problem.

“We are assessing all the players. We’ll see. We have training tomorrow and we travel to Liverpool. We’ll see if he can be involved or not,” the Tottenham manager said.

“I cannot say he is complete in the way that you’d say, ‘OK, we can trust him to play 90 minutes’, but we have a big squad and sometimes it’s difficult to give the possibility. He has to work hard: he’s still young, it was a big injury, but for sure he’s going to have the possibility to play in the future.”