Coming out of a classic Premier League match, which saw Tottenham Hotspur draw 3-3 with treble winners Manchester City, one name was on the lips of everyone as they left the stadium: Simon Hooper. The referee made a controversial call in the dying minutes of the game, as he initially played an advantage as Jack Grealish was breaking away to go one-on-one with the Spurs keeper, but then blew his whistle to give the free kick in City’s favour instead.
Oh, and everyone was also talking about Dejan ‘Deki’ Kulusevski’s late equaliser that saw the North London outfit salvage a point at the Etihad.
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Storming into the box to sink an equaliser into Ederson’s net in the 90th minute capped off not just an incredible match for the Swedish international, but felt like a deserved moment for a player who has been having a silently brilliant season. Kulusevski has started all of Tottenham’s league games for the season, often on the right of a front three.
However, the recent injury crisis at Spurs has forced Australian boss Ange Postecoglou to get innovative as he looks to plug the gaps left by injuries to multiple first-team players, notably James Maddison and Pape Matar Sarr. Kulusevski and the divisive Argentine midfielder Giovani Lo Celso have been asked to play in central midfield in the absence of Maddison and Sarr and it is fair to say that both have seized the opportunity.
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In fact, the Swede recently said in an interview that he prefers to play centrally. He stated that he felt like ‘himself’ and he certainly looked effective at the Etihad. Whether it was centrally, where he was able to set up captain Heung-min Son for the game’s opener or out wide due to a tactical adjustment in the team, the 23-year-old shone as he notched up another goal at the home of the current Premier League champions.
This stadium has become a happy hunting ground for him, as he has scored on all three of his visits while also notching up two assists.
Anyone who has watched Spurs play this season would have been surprised to learn that Kulusevski has covered the most distance out of any player in the Premier League this season. It’s been a vital part of his game, whether he is helping out Pedro Porro defend on the right flank or keeping the ball to see out a result (as seen against Luton), ‘Deki’ is an incredibly hard worker.
But more than that, he is an incredibly tactically flexible player. He is able to perform at a high level regardless of where he is asked to play or what he is asked to do. His ball retention and ability to make the correct decision nine out of ten times make him valuable to any team. In other words, he exudes what is known as ‘Pausa’ (a footballing term derived from the Spanish word meaning “pause”). It has to do with a player’s ability to slow the game down and make the right attacking action.
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Whether he is scoring goals, defending deep, whipping in crosses, or simply retaining the ball in a tight space, Kulusevski has the right attributes and, more importantly, the right attitude to be the perfect Postecoglou player.