Tottenham had a great start to the season on Saturday. It was surprising to see them score four goals without Son Heung-min or Harry Kane getting on the score sheet. However, that underlines how Antonio Conte has coached a team to be less reliant on the world class attacking partnership. The wing-backs offer a huge amount of attacking threat, but the underrated part of the attack is Dejan Kulusevski.
The Swedish international arrived in England with relatively little fanfare. Fabio Paratici used his connections at Juventus to sign the 22-year-old on a loan with a view to a permanent. Last season, Kulusevski contributed five goals and eight assists in the Premier League, immediately adding quality to the Spurs attack.
On Saturday, he started where he left off with a goal and an assist during Tottenham’s opening day victory. Kulusevski may have been signed to be a supporting member to the attack. However, he is quickly emerging as a great player in his own right. Richarlison was signed this summer to add competition and depth to the forward line. It was speculated that the Swedish international was most likely to drop out of the starting eleven. Based on the weekend, he will be very difficult to displace.
Kulusevski carries a big threat in the attacking half. On Saturday, he had two shots, six shot creating actions and eight progressive carries during the match. The 22-year-old is excellent at reading the game in the final third. He makes the correct decision more often than not and that is impressive for a player of his age.
In terms of underlying numbers, Kulusevski had 0.2 expected goals and 0.4 expected assists in the game. It is foolish to read too much into a small sample size, but the Swede has shown this influence since joining the club.
Further to his attacking quality, Kulusevski is a hard working player out of possession. He made 20 pressures during the game, which was more than any other Tottenham player. Antonio Conte will be a big fan of this part of the Swede’s game. It is important for him to do this if he is to retain his place in the team when Richarlison returns to the squad, as there are few attackers with the work rate of the new Tottenham signing.
There have been some suggesting that Spurs can challenge for the title. It is too soon to draw too many conclusions from the weekend, but there is no doubting that they have an attack that is capable. It can be argued that the signing of Kulusevski has added a new dimension to the attack.
Although Son and Kane didn’t get on the score-sheet this weekend, the increased profile of Kulusevski will only be beneficial for them in the long term. Not only can the Swede create clear-cut chances, he is starting to grab the attention of opposition teams.
In turn, this will create space for the other two attackers to inflict damage. This could be something that we see over the coming weeks.