Dejan Kulusevski is just six games into his Premier League career and he’s already topped his Serie A goal contributions for the season. Life in north London has started wonderfully for the 21-year-old Swede.
Now, this isn’t a case of Premier League inferiority. Far from it. Instead, Kulusevski’s emergence at Spurs is all about a distinctly gifted footballer being placed in an environment in which he’s destined to thrive. In his admittedly short sample size for the Lilywhites, he’s looked more comfortable than he ever did in Turin.
The hesitance and indecisiveness that plagued his time at Juventus have been usurped by the swagger and assertiveness that emanated during his majestic loan spell at Parma. Antonio Conte has helped ‘Deki’, as he prefers to be known, rediscover the exuberance that helped him to the Serie A Young Player of the Year crown for his work during the 2019/20 season.
"“I suffered so much over the last few months, I didn’t feel like myself and playing like this with my first Premier League start, I cannot describe it. I needed to stay calm and play without too many thoughts in my head,” said Kulusevski after helping Spurs to a 3-2 victory over Manchester City in February."
After enduring a difficult few months locked up in Massimiliano Allegri’s pragmatic prison, Kulusevski is now playing under a manager that will, and already is, maximising his potential.
Dejan Kulusevski has started brilliantly at Tottenham following a difficult season at Juventus
Kulusevski has already discussed the difficulties he endured at Juventus before his winter exit. While his debut season at the club was far from special, glimpses of his brilliance were teased. And despite eventually getting several crucial opportunities to shine under Allegri this term, he was never gifted the chance to build any momentum in Bianconeri colours. The Juventus boss proved inhibiting as opposed to facilitating.
Thus, it was the right time for the stalling Swede to move on. Just a month ago, it appeared that his switch to Tottenham would benefit all the parties involved. But you’ve quickly got the sense that Juventus will rue wasting Kulusevski’s talents and having little choice but to part ways. Very few expected him to catch fire as he has done in his first month as a Premier League footballer.
Under Conte, the 21-year-old is operating primarily in the right half-space as an inside forward in the Italian manager’s 3-4-2-1 system. It’s the ideal role for the crafty Swede as it grants him the freedom to drift central, cut in on his favoured left foot and combine with a surging wing-back on the overlap. He’s benefitted massively from being a part of a refined, automated system that’s reliant on swift combinations down the flanks.
Working in tandem with Harry Kane must help as well, but the Swede deserves credit for establishing a healthy relationship with the faltering Matt Doherty. Kuluseveski’s tendency to drift infield is opening up huge amounts of space for the Irishman to penetrate into, and his two best performances in a Spurs shirt have come in his last two Premier League outings.
The pair were particularly destructive on Monday night as Conte’s Lilywhites ran riot in a 5-0 beatdown of Everton. Kulusevski, who recently scored and assisted in Spurs’ memorable 3-2 victory over Premier League leaders Manchester City, received a heap of praise for his display. In amongst his two assists was a performance laden with confidence, astuteness and technical quality. It was the sort of showing that convinced me he could’ve been Paulo Dybala’s replacement at Juventus (should he depart as a free agent this summer, which is now looking more likely).
Was Kulusevski the ready-made replacement for Paulo Dybala at Juventus?
While Kulusevski differs from Dybala and isn’t the archetypal languid #10 of yesteryear, he represents a modernised iteration of the majestic La Joya. He’s incredibly intelligent and uses his body brilliantly to evade pressure. The Swede is one of those players that certainly looks quicker with the ball, while his timing of the ‘release’ pass is phenomenal. There’s a hint of La Pausa to the 21-year-old’s game with his resemblance to Arjen Robben – apologies for the lazy comparison – when he cuts onto his favoured left foot being uncanny.
As a Kulusevski admirer, it’s brilliant to see him thriving once more. From a Juventus perspective, I must reiterate that I totally understand why they opted to let him depart in January. However, Allegri’s inability to get a tune out of such an obviously excellent footballer could prove costly, literally. Should Dybala depart this summer, you suspect the Bianconeri will have to fork out a wad of cash to bring in a suitable replacement.
Nicolo Zaniolo and Giacomo Raspadori have both been linked, but each will cost a pretty penny. Dejan Kulusevski was the ready-made replacement Juventus, and the majority of their supporters, never knew they had.