Off the back of a recent 5-1 win over Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotpsur are now looking at the very real possibility of a top four finish after some early turbulence under Antonio Conte.
After losing 1-0 to Burnley, Conte complained profusely and even questioned his own ability as a coach just a few months into his new job role. But, Tottenham have managed to turn it around – Conte’s January business bolstering Spurs, allowing their hot-headed Italian coach the tools to purchase the personnel he wanted in order to tweak Tottenham’s style of play.
Both arrivals in January came from Italy and specifically Turin, Rodrigo Bentacur and Dejan Kulusevski joining from Conte’s old club Juventus. The latter is a loan deal with the view to purchase, something all Spurs fans will hope occurs with the 21-year-old starring for Spurs since his arrival. Five goals and two assists in 10 games has made him a key player in attack for Spurs, something new up top with Conte’s men finding their shooting boots in recent matches – wins over Newcastle, West Ham and Everton seeing 13 goals find the net in favour of Spurs.
After the pragmatism of Nuno Espirito Santo’s reign bored the Tottenham faithful, players like Kulusevski are a welcome breath of fresh air as Tottenham begin to excite fans again.
It will be a welcome relief for the young Swedish attacker that this loan spell has started so well, his time in Serie A not exactly setting the world alight – one goal in 20 for Juventus this season a poor return, loaned out again to reignite the early potential he showcased in Turin after leaving Atalanta behind as a teenager. Antonio Conte has always been an admirer of the Swedish talent, even stating in the past that he tried to sign Kulusevski during his spell at Inter Milan as manager. Now, he has his man.
Kulusevski has shown glimpses of brilliance during his time with Juventus, irregular moments of real quality during his short time in Turin. He would even score on his Juventus debut back in September 2020, curling a great strike past Audero in the Sampdoria net to make it 1-0 on the night before Cristiano Ronaldo killed the contest at 3-0 late on.
His second strike in Juventus colours came against Hellas Verona, driving at the Verona backline before again finding the corner with a neat finish. Used as a bench option by Andrea Pirlo – the manager of the Old Lady at the time – Kulusevski managed to rescue a point for Juventus by dancing past the Verona defenders. The young Swedish attacker would excel under the guidance of Andrea Pirlo, Massimiliano Allegri not as keen on the Stockholm born winger with his game-time under the two-time Juve boss limited. He would manage one strike this season under Allegri, a rebounded effort finding its way in as The Old Lady came from behind in dramatic fashion to win 4-3.
A change of scenery was the option for Kulusevski therefore, a player who showcased what he was all about under Andrea Pirlo’s short reign in charge at Juventus but a player who fell away when a new tenure for the Italian giants arrived – Allegri favouring the likes of Dusan Vlahovic in attack for Juventus among others. With Antonio Conte still working out what he wanted at Spurs, he opted for Kulusevski as a signing to instil something fresh into Tottenham up top. An exciting talent who enjoys running at the opposition in tricky bursts of pace, he was something new and raw in attack. Often criticised for not spending enough as Tottenham chairman, Daniel Levy ensured Conte got what he asked for in allowing this move to go through.
He won’t be regretting it either, Conte’s hype around the former Atalanta man evident in his performances for Spurs so far. He was key in Tottenham’s breathless win at Manchester City in the middle of February, the new front three for Spurs of Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son and Dejan Kulusevski combining with the brand new number 21 for Conte’s men stroking the ball into an empty net for 1-0. He would then assist the crucial Harry Kane header to make it 2-1, a wonderful cross into the box after receiving the ball inch perfect for Tottenham’s ever-reliable number 10 to poke home. He didn’t quite have a part to play in the last minute drama involving Harry Kane’s second on the night, Conte’s men beating Guardiola’s side 3-2, but he was instrumental in Spurs pulling off an unlikely victory. After the woes of two successive home defeats, Tottenham showed off their true quality in a crazy match.
His second goal in a Spurs shirt would come at Elland Road, a comprehensive 4-0 win on the day for Tottenham resulting in Marcelo Bielsa losing his job at Leeds. Tottenham were ruthless and cut-throat in this one, Kulusevski and Son relentless just behind Harry Kane up top with wave after wave of attacks too much for Leeds to handle. He would score Tottenham’s second of the afternoon, hitting a long range sweetly past Illan Meslier who tried to stop the fierce effort to no avail. Performances like the one against Leeds are a far-cry away from how Tottenham begun this campaign, staunchly defensive and pragmatic under Nuno Espirito Santo. Now, under Antonio Conte, their play is attack-oriented spearheaded by Harry Kane regaining his confidence alongside new positive recruits such as Dejan Kulusevski.
He also has five assists under his belt since joining on loan, a healthy return from his 10 appearances to date. The ruthlessness of Spurs was evident again in the game directly after Leeds, taking Everton to the sword in a 5-0 humiliation of Frank Lampard’s Toffees. With only seven shots on target all match, Conte’s men ensured they made Everton pay for every single lapse of concentration on the night – two assists for the Swedish loanee too, setting up Heung-Min Son for the second goal of the night before a flowing move allowed Kulusevski to square it to Reguilon for 4-0 only a minute into the second half. Two more statement victories saw the 21-year-old play a key role, notching up two more assists in big wins over West Ham and Newcastle. The 5-1 win over Newcastle saw five different goalscorers, a real team collective down at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Spurs’ recent turnaround in form has lifted Tottenham to an unexpected fourth spot, a position Antonio Conte would have deemed a stretch after his post-match comments at Turf Moor. Arsenal’s car-crash display at Crystal Palace, Mikel Arteta’s Gunners losing 3-0 at Selhurst Park on Monday night, might well start to breed some confidence that Conte’s Spurs can maintain their grip on the coveted fourth spot. If Dejan Kulusevski continues to offer his services in attack as he has done, there’s no doubt in my mind that Tottenham can continue to perform strongly with the likes of Brighton and Brentford to come for Spurs.
With rumours circulating that Spurs are doing everything in their power to make this Kulusevski loan permanent, and the Swedish youngster stating the pull of Antonio Conte as an esteemed coach one of the main factors in his switch to England, expect Kulusevski to be a Tottenham player again next season after taking the Premier League by storm in such a short space of time.