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When Two Became Three: Dejan Kulusevski’s Impact at Tottenham

They say that good things come in threes. That is certainly true for football, with the modern game increasingly making use of formations and systems that focus on sets of three players able to work together as a unit.

Liverpool and Manchester City, who have been a cut above the rest of the Premier League in recent years, both play variations of 4-3-3. Each “three” has defined roles within the team and works as a unit. Depending on the flexibility and aggression wanted in that moment by Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola, the midfield can be more flexible in terms of individual players joining the attacking unit.

Guardiola, Klopp, and Conte

I only need to jot down a short list of names for your footballing brain to get to work:

  • Mane, Firmino, Salah
  • Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta
  • Tevez, Rooney, Ronaldo
  • Rodri, Gundogan, De Bruyne
  • Neymar, Suarez, Messi

The really impressive part about Manchester City and Liverpool is how the system is at the core of the team’s success, not the individuals. Manchester City has such an array of talent, and is coached so well, that if you replace any one of their players from the “33” of the “433” that the system will still prevail. It doesn’t matter if it’s Mahrez on the right wing, or Foden, or Bernado… They all know the role inside out and have worked on perfecting this system over thousands of gruelling hours on the training pitch. It’s now routine. When they get into certain areas on the pitch, they know what their options are before they even receive the ball.

Liverpool seemingly had an issue with individuals being more important than their system, but they have moved to correct this in the last 18 months with some really smart signings. When Firmino was injured, the system couldn’t work. In comes Diego Jota. If Salah or Mane were injured, or having a spell out of form, the system didn’t work. In comes Luis Diaz.

Now, Liverpool is able to replace the cogs in this machine and keep it running, just like Manchester City. Recruitment is a massive part of football, and it becomes a lot easier once you have a footballing system in place from top to bottom. Manchester United, take note.

Some teams are not quite at this level yet, but have fantastic systems regardless. Bayern Munich without Lewandowski, Real Madrid without Karim Benzema, Tottenham without Harry Kane.

Until recently, Tottenham’s “good things” came as a two, not a three. Harry Kane and Son Heung-min have linked up to score more times than any other partnership in Premier League history. Enter Dejan Kulusevski.

Tottenham with Kulusevski

Kulusevski signed for Spurs from Juventus on the final day of the January Transfer Window and as we enter April, his impact has been profound. He has 6 assists and 3 goals in 11 games. Possibly more important than his on-field numbers, however, is how Spurs now have their very own “three” to add to the list above. Remember, good things come in threes.

Harry Kane won Player of The Month for March, and it’s no surprise that his uptick in form has coincided with both Kulusevski and Son playing on either side of him. Structure and familiarity is so important in the modern game, as mentioned previously with City and Liverpool. Now Tottenham has that structure in place and Conte is starting to drill his own system into his players, and they are benefitting massively. These things take time, but the results are clear to see for Tottenham as we enter a crucial part of the season. Kane has been able to use the constant movement of Son and Kulusevski to find space for himself, for both creating and scoring goals.

The 0-4 victory at Aston Villa was a great example. Kane failed to find the net, but contributed massively with two assists of the highest quality. Son and Kane have been given a new lease of life by adding Kulusevski to their duo. He ticks many boxes in terms of what a manager wants from a modern forward. He’s intelligent, left-footed, roams into dangerous spaces, can operate from both flanks, and has real quality when it matters. At £35m (the agreed optional price after the loan deal) Tottenham have a bargain.

Son Form for Tottenham since Kulusevski

Since Kulusevski’s first start for Spurs, Harry Kane has scored 7 goals and created 6. In that same period, Son has scored 8 goals and created 3. The South Korean now has his sights set on the Golden Boot, and is just 3 goals behind Mohamed Salah, who has now gone months without an open play goal for Liverpool. But, this isn’t about individuals, remember?

Well, unfortunately for Spurs, it still is.

They are at the start of this journey and simply don’t have the squad to cover for Kulusevski, Son, or Kane. If one of them were to get injured or suspended then the system (that I believe we saw the peak of last night) would not operate in the same way. The importance of these three players can not be overstated. The next step for Conte and Tottenham is to find players with similar qualities that can come in and almost be understudies to Kane, Son, and now Kulusevski. Easier said than done!

Hopefully now you can understand that whilst Tottenham looks mighty impressive at times under Conte, they still have a long way to go and a big summer ahead if they are to get to the level of Manchester City and Liverpool. Who do you think they should sign to help ease the pressure on their new trio? Will they have to replace Harry Kane regardless?

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Written by Joe (Founder @ OddAlerts)

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