It has been a fruitful start to life at Tottenham for Antonio Conte, from winning his opening nine Premier League matches to then losing four in five and talks of the Italian being unhappy at Spurs. Nonetheless, one man that has hit the ground running is their new Swedish star Dejan Kulusevski.
Deki’s Start At Spurs
Kulusevski joined Spurs from Juventus this January, initially on loan but with an obligation to buy for €35 million, based on conditions. The Swede lasted just 18 months in Turin and endured a difficult stay with Juve, struggling to find minutes on the pitch to showcase his ability. However, the 21-year-old has been the shining light during a difficult period at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as the forward has three goal contributions in five appearances, including a goal and assist in Spurs’ 3-2 victory against Manchester City at the Etihad last month.
Making his switch on deadline day, the former Atalanta and Parma player has not needed long to adapt to life in the Premier League and also found the net once more on Saturday as he helped Tottenham to a 4-0 victory away to Leeds United. Conte has been full of praise for his new man and told The Athletic that he is a “perfect player” and that “he is showing that he is a fantastic player for the present but also if he continues in this way he can become a really important player. He is strong physically, good technically, he has no fear of the opponent or the tackle“.
Charlie Eccleshare of The Athletic writes that it’s Kulusevski’s versatility that held him back at Juventus but at Tottenham it’s his greatest strength. The dwindling options across the midfield and up top for Spurs clearly bodes well for Kulusevski, who has now featured as a forward, at right wing-back and on the wing. The winter departures in the form of Tanguy Ndombele, Giovanni Lo Celso, Dele Alli and Bryan Gil have certainly left them light.
Similarly at Juventus, Kulusevski performed in a number of roles, mostly on the right hand side of midfield but also on the left, through the center, as well as at No. 10 and as a central forward. Spurs’ thin squad could be a blessing for Kulusevski, allowing him to get plenty of minutes on the pitch and prove to be an effective and important cog in the Conte machine.
Kulusevski’s first start for Spurs was against Wolverhampton Wanderers and despite the defeat, the Swede occupied a No. 10 role and did demonstrate some key qualities, finding space and creating opportunities. His work rate and teamwork was evident against City, much seen during his time in Italy, as he helped out enormously in his side’s defensive effort, whilst also grabbing a goal and assist. Against Burnley he featured at right-wing back for the final quarter of the match, almost getting on the scoresheet too but he was to be denied by the woodwork. Against Leeds, where he found the back of the net once more, he occupied a role on the right wing and helped showcase a range of creativity and attacking quality throughout.
He seems like the real deal with a host of abilities, well suited to that of the Premier League and its faster paced football. English football comes with a certain demand for physical attributes, as well as technical, and Kulusevski’s work rate and teamwork will put him in good stead, particularly for a demanding Antonio Conte.
What Will Juventus Miss?
Kulusevski’s technical abilities have been plain to see. He is not necessarily a player with remarkable speed that can frighten defenses but more so one that boasts technical skill and ability to take on a man and provide clever and intuitive movement.
Of course, one issue at Juventus was his final product. In his two seasons in Serie A with Juve, he only scored five goals and assisted six. It has only taken him five appearances this time around with Spurs to score twice and also provide an assist. It is still a long way to go but clearly that clinical edge is seemingly coming to him now and one what was missing during his time in Italy.
On the other hand, the Swede is still only 21 years of age and Juventus perhaps should have given him more time to develop with the clear technical and mental attributes already within the player. However, was he a player Juve really needed? The signing of Dusan Vlahovic has added that bit of extra firepower they desired, scoring three goals in his first four Serie A appearances for the Bianconeri, including a brace away to Empoli at the weekend. At Tottenham, Kulusevski could be given time to grow.
What’s Next for Kulusevski?
It would be sensible to take this fine start for Kulusevski with a pinch of salt, it has only been five games that he has played under Conte and things can change quickly, especially in the unforgiving world of football. We must also bare in mind that Leeds have been woeful of late, particularly defensively, despite Kulusevski’s encouraging performance. Nonetheless, it is a bright start and Spurs can certainly not grumble with their new man so far.
Honing in his skills at a young age, particularly whilst still fighting the physical demands of the Premier League, could really work in Kulusevski’s favor, as well as creating an intimidating frontline alongside Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son.
Tottenham’s hunt for qualifying for European football continues, as well as a search to end their trophy drought. They face Middlesbrough in the fifth round of the FA Cup on Tuesday. There’s plenty of fixtures remaining as Conte looks to lead his side up the table, with clashes against Everton and Manchester United coming up shortly. Kulusevski could make himself a hero at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium if he can help spark a charge into the Champions League spots but there is still a long way to go.