Why Dejan Kulusevski is perfect for Tottenham

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It was a month of frustration for Antonio Conte. His newfound Tottenham team were performing well on the pitch, but failed to find their footing in the January transfer window, with the Italian bemoaning the lack of investment from chairman Daniel Levy and co. But just when Conte’s wails reached the tone of sirens on a firetruck, the club secured the signatures of two Juventus talismen – Rodrigo Bentancur and Dejan Kulusevski. While fans had expectations that a new central midfielder would enter the revolving door, a brand new wing wizard came as a bit of an eyebrow-raiser. Since that day, Dejan Kulusevski has been a revelation at Spurs, completely knocking the in-form Lucas Moura out of the lineup in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. So with that, here is our latest Player Analysis, and an in-depth examination as to why Dejan Kulusevski is perfect for Antonio Conte’s Spurs.

STYLE OF PLAY & KEY CHARACTERISTICS

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Dejan Kulusevski might as well be nicknamed the rapid rabbit. With pace for days, the Swedish attacker has made himself an instant counter attacking threat, and an incredibly useful mechanism for taking attention away from world-beaters Harry Kane and Heung-Min-Son.

But Kulusevski is far from just a speed merchant. The Swede has remarkably sound positional understanding. He comprehends when to operate centrally in response to the movement of Harry Kane out wide, or to the overlapping run of his right-wing-back down the by-line. He also has a good grasp as to when to stay wide himself, such as his impeccable stretching of Manchester City’s back-line in the team’s stunning 3-2 victory. In that particular match, the 21-year-old hugged the touchline as Harry Kane dropped deep to pick up the ball. This pushed City’s back-four into all kinds of twisted shapes, and allowed Kulusevski to run riot down Spurs’ right. Since that day, the former Juve man has been un-droppable for Conte, and has boosted his tallies to 2 goals and 3 assists in his first six Premier League fixtures.

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As he showcased magnificently against City, one of Kulusevski’s greatest strengths since joining Spurs has been his ability to occupy defenders and push the opposition back-line closer to their own goal, or even better – completely out of shape. No matter how much they may endeavour to become a possession-based team in the future, Spurs will always be an excellent counter-attacking side with Son and Kane in the side. But with Harry Kane dropping in and Hojbjerg driving forward, Kulusevski rarely needs to be the one to kickstart the countered move. This means that he can instantly sprint forward upon regains of possession, backpedaling the opposition onto their bikes, and simultaneously drawing a picture of more space for those on the ball to progress into.

Similarly, as the likes of Davies, Reguilon and Son combine down the left to generate chances, Kulusevski can time his runs into the box to finish them off, as Doherty gets forward to compound matters all the more. The 21-year-old Swede is dazzling with the ball at his feet and one of the more genuinely two-footed players around, but his work off the ball has been insurmountably impressive for Spurs – and a big plus as part of his addition to the team.

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With all that heaping praise out of the way, Kulusevski wouldn’t warrant his own analysis if it weren’t for his twinkle toes on the ball. The Swedish attacker constantly wants to cut inside on his left foot into central areas. But with an abundance of quality in his boots, he’s equally capable of shifting it back onto his right and taking players on down the by-line. This gives Conte the kind of balance he craves – with a right-footed player in Son on the left, and a left-footed player in Kulusevski on the right. Crucially, he comprehends when too much is too much, and isn’t the type to just take defenders on over and over again without purpose. He recognizes his role in the team as a facilitator to talented others, picking and choosing his moments to showcase his own magic wisely. But having dribbled past 2.55 players per 90 minutes since joining, Kulusevski has made himself a nightmarish figure for opposition defenders to contend with.

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Defensively, Dejan Kulusevski has also stuck to his tasks, and banged the gong in all kinds of positive ways. He’s been the most proactive of all Tottenham attackers in diving in and winning back possession, while his football IQ again shines through in his ability to shuffle off the ball and hold his position. The Swedish winger maintains line height and width with the two central midfielders and Heung-Min-Son in a 5-4-1 mid-block, then ramps up the pressure when the ball finds its way into his zone. In transitional moments, Son and Kulusevski may fall back into more of a diamond-esque 5-2-2-1 shape, and then drift out wide as the opposition find their footing and build-up to the attack.

Lower on the pitch, the Swedish winger continues to hold his team’s line height, actively engaging himself in the defensive 5-4-1 shape, rather than readying himself for attacking transitions. With 9.14 pressures applied per 90 in his own third since joining Spurs, Kulusevski is one of the most spirited wingers in the league when it comes to doing the dirty work. To give you some context, Son is at just 2.09 this season, Moura performs slightly better at 3.45, while Kane reaches just 0.59. He outperforms his teammates when defending in the middle third too (9.57 per 90), making it all the more clear why Conte can’t resist the temptation of selecting the Swede for his starting eleven.

With all this mind, Dejan Kulusevski sounds like a complete winger. As we’ll come to see, he’s by no means perfect. But he might just be perfect for Tottenham Hotspur at this current time, and a brilliant addition to the team.

STATISTICAL COMPARISON

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In deciding whether or not Dejan Kulusevski is truly a perfect fit for Tottenham, we’d be remised not to compare the Swede to his fellow teammates. We took to our favourite stats site FBRef to compile some of the most important statistical categories worth comparing, and weighed up Kulusevski’s strengths and weaknesses against the other most prominent members of Spurs’ front-line.

ATTACKING + POSSESSION

It’s been an extraordinary start to life for Kulusevski in his first six games, and it’s clear for all to see why Conte has put so much trust into the Swede already. Showcasing his passing propensity and creativity, the 21-year-old has accumulated the highest passing percentage and the most assists per 90 so far. A small sample size it may be, but Kulusevski’s numbers still stand out regardless. While his dribble percentage reaches a lower height than all three of Spurs’ other prominent attackers, he’s been ambitious in dribbling past more players, and taking players on with a greater regularity.

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Lucas Moura may carry and pass the ball with a greater degree of progressiveness, but again, much of the Swede’s strengths have to do with his work off-the-ball, which aren’t really quantifiable in these statistical categories. Encouragingly, his goals per shot ratio is the most comparable to the outrageousness of Heung-Min-Son, who’s developed a redoubtable reputation as one of the most clinical in the world. Best of all, when you add goals and assists together, he’s contributed 1.06 per 90. That tally triples Lucas Moura’s 0.36, nearly doubles Kane’s 0.54, and even trumps Heung-Min-Son’s 0.73.

Evidently an exceptional forward with a bright future ahead of him, the statistics suggest that Spurs should do everything in their power to turn this loan move into a permanent one.

DEFENSIVE WORK ETHIC

As noted throughout our analysis, the most impressive facets of Kulusevski’s game have to do with his off-the-ball prowess, and ability to contribute to all areas of Conte’s plans. The wing wizard wins on three of the categories we cross-examined, vastly outperforming his team in on-the-ball defensive actions. His tackle and interception numbers may seem low, but 3.83 per 90 compares well to others in his position, and overshadows the others in our study. His pressure numbers (an off-the-ball action) also shine far brighter than his three teammates, even if Kane accumulates a better pressure success percentage. Finally, despite not being the tallest of lads, Kulusevski completely outperforms Heung-Min-Son when it comes to challenges in the air, and compares more closely to the big man up top in Harry Kane. Lucas Moura is an anomaly of a smaller player who wins everything he contests in the air, but Kulusevski is proving himself to be a bit of an anomaly himself for his versatility in skillset. One thing is abundantly clear – when it comes to the defensive side of the game – Dejan Kulusevski is a warrior that cannot be dropped.

CONCLUSION

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After achieving very little in the entirety of the January transfer window, Spurs splashed the cash on Rodrigo Bentancur and Dejan Kulusevski, finding formidable solidity in both Juve talents. With a remarkably impressive start to life at Spurs, the club must now do everything in power to secure the Swede past this summer, and continue to take his advantage of his rapid rabbit like speed. While being a two-footed wizard with an eye for a pass, Kulusevski’s off-the-ball work is perhaps the most dignified part of his game – doing a massive job for his team in defense and attacking transitions. With a top four finish certainly still within reach, the stats suggest Antonio Conte should start the 21-year-old in as many matches as humanly possible, in order to have the best shot at playing in next season’s UEFA Champions League.


So there it is! Why Dejan Kulusevski is perfect for Tottenham. Be sure to check out more of our Player AnalysesData Analyses, and Scouting & Recruitment articles. Also be sure to follow on social media @desmondrhys & @mastermindsite, to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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