Making such an impact following his January transfer move from Juventus, Dejan Kulusevski has been rather quiet in his past two Tottenham appearances going on the incredibly high standards he has already set. Having no influence on proceedings in the 1-0 defeat against Brighton & Hove Albion 14 days ago, it was more of the same from the Swede against Brentford last time out.
Kulusevski hasn’t been the only Tottenham player to struggle over the past fortnight, however. Antonio Conte’s side have looked a world away from the team that hit Newcastle United for five and Aston Villa for four earlier in the month, instead looking more like the Spurs team towards the end of Nuno Espirito Santo’s tenure.
The Portuguese’s team lacked creativity and any spark in the final third, with his final game in charge against Manchester United seeing them fail to even register a shot on target. Spurs have unfortunately repeated that feat in their past two fixtures and they need Kulusevski, Son Heung-min and Harry Kane at their best in the final five games of the campaign if they are to secure a top-four finish.
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Winning seven of their nine league games prior to the Brighton defeat, Tottenham were getting a lot of joy from their right flank in that period as Kulusevski and Matt Doherty both chipped in with goals and assists to help the team climb the league table. In an area where Spurs had previously struggled given there was a lot of chopping and changing in order to find the perfect partnership, Doherty and Kulusevski finally looked to have solved the puzzle for Conte.
That was clear to see in the 4-0 win over Leeds United as the duo linked up extremely well down the right time and time again to cause the hosts a number of problems. Having opened the scoring after ten minutes with a well-taken strike from close range, Doherty got an assist to his name five minutes later as he teed up with Kulusevski for the second of the afternoon.
The pair continued to shine together in the following game against Everton as they registered two assists apiece in the 5-0 triumph. Sergio Reguilon and Ryan Sessegnon’s absence through injury had seen Doherty and Kulusevski operate on opposite sides in the 5-1 win over Newcastle following Conte’s decision to move the wing-back over to the left and start Emerson Royal on the right.
Tottenham’s two left wing-backs returned on the bench against Aston Villa a week later, thus handing the head coach the opportunity to field his favoured right side for the run-in following Doherty’s appearance on the left at Villa Park. However, Spurs were dealt a major blow early on in the contest with the Republic of Ireland international sustaining a season-ending knee injury following a challenge from Matty Cash.
Surviving a Villa onslaught in the first half and going on to win 4-0 following three second-half goals, with Kulusevski getting a goal and an assist to his name, Spurs haven’t looked the same team since the win in the Midlands. Failing to find a way past a Brighton side who made life incredibly difficult for them in the final third, Kulusevski was hooked after 64 minutes in the 1-0 defeat after having no impact on proceedings with the visitors not letting him operate.
Suffering more troubles at Brentford as they were outnumbered in the midfield battle and couldn’t turn the game in their favour, Kulusevski did play the full 90 minutes but finished the game at right wing-back after Emerson was replaced late on.
Kulusevski and Doherty complemented each other when they were in the team together and Spurs flourished as a result as they quickly formed a natural understanding. The Sweden star’s tendency to cut in from the right and onto his left foot opened up plenty of space down the wing and that allowed Doherty to bomb forward and do what he does best in the final third.
Emerson is still trying to get to grips with operating as a wing-back having spent his career playing at full-back, perhaps explaining why the partnership hasn’t quite clicked just yet as the attacking side of the game doesn’t come naturally to him. Doherty’s injury has robbed Conte of such a key partnership in his Tottenham plan and he does need to find an alternative with time running out to help the team get over the line in the top-four race.
That may in turn see the Stockholm-born youngster move to wing-back as Conte has previously stated that he can play there, although that then takes away from their eye-catching front three in the process. Registering three goals and six assists in his first 15 games for Tottenham, all in N17 will be hoping that Kulusevski rediscovers his form after two subdued performances when Leicester City make the trip to the capital on Sunday afternoon.
Source by Football London