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Monday, November 28, 2022

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Dejan Kulusevski will save Tottenham’s attack, but their defence needs a hard reset

From Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – If there are two Premier League teams who love a bit of late nonsense, it’s Tottenham and Leeds.

Fortunately for all the Barclays fiends out there, they faced off at 3pm on Saturday (so that’s an ‘unfortunately’ for those within the British Isles instead scrambling for a stream, then).

As certain as night follows day, Spurs conceded the first goal of the contest following some slow and ponderous defending. Hey, sometimes match reports just write themselves, and there were seven goals in this one so we’ve got to move through the gears quickly here.

Tottenham levelled through Harry Kane before Rodrigo walked in behind the hosts’ backline and put Leeds back in front on the stroke of half-time. It wouldn’t be a Spurs match without such a handicap at the interval, would it?

Antonio Conte’s half-time team talk worked a treat and Ben Davies smashed in a second equaliser as the hosts looked to go for the kill, but were continually pinned back by Leeds’ stellar pressing and Jesse Marsch’s men went ahead for a third time through Rodrigo, once more racing in behind a sleeping defence.

And then Tottenham showed up. Matt Doherty and Davinson Sanchez galloped up the pitch to flank Dejan Kulusevski, forming a formidable attacking trident and helping Rodrigo Bentancur grab a quick-fire brace to seal the three points.

It’s not the first time that Spurs’ double-signing from Juventus has paid dividends. Following their arrivals last January, Kulusevski and Bentancur improved the team not just with their overall ability, but their technical nuances too.

Tottenham have a lot of grafters and hard runners, but they have too often lacked finesse and guile in the absence of the duo.

That fact has been laid pretty bare by Kulusevski’s hamstring injury in recent weeks. Without him, Spurs became borderline unwatchable, only becoming worthy of viewing late in games with their backs to the walls.

His quality shone through against Leeds on his first start since September. The Swede’s ability to draw defenders in and then simply move round them one way or another is mesmeric, and it meant a long afternoon for Pascal Struijk and Liam Cooper.

Where Kulusevski and Bentancur were important in grabbing goals, it can’t go unnoticed how poor Spurs were at the other end.

As mentioned, their signings raised the technical floor of the squad, but there is still work to be done. Tottenham’s inability to neither play from the back or…defend at the back…is the glass ceiling on what’s an otherwise potent team.

It wasn’t too long ago that Spurs were hailed for their ruthlessness, leapfrogging Manchester City and Liverpool and the highest scoring team in 2022 back in August. The return of Kulusevski should get them back to those ruthless heights, but no longer can their defence remain unchanged.

Fans have unanimously given up on Emerson Royal, who was jeered for killing attacks and cheered when substituted. Eric Dier wasn’t good enough to play at centre-back with peak Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, he’s still not good enough to lead a serious defence. Clement Lenglet and Davies are OK, but you’re not really going anywhere if they’re consistent starters.

Conte has continually called for patience and insisted Spurs may not have a squad capable of winning major titles for another three transfer windows. Their first task needs to be revamping the defence to truly look like one in his image.

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