Manchester City should have been out of sight by half-time against Tottenham on Sunday evening. The defending champions had a 2-1 lead at the interval but they missed a number of golden opportunities. Jérémy Doku and Julián Álvarez struck the woodwork and Erling Haaland fluffed two big chances. In the end, City were made to rue their failure to put the game beyond doubt.
Giovani Lo Celso scored midway through the second half to make it 2-2 and, after Jack Grealish restored City’s lead in the 82nd minute, Dejan Kulusevski headed home to win a point for the visitors. The 23-year-old has now scored on each of his three visits to the Etihad. No wonder Spurs posted a video of his late equaliser on social media and captioned it: “The Dekihad.”
A number of players have been singled out for praise during Ange Postecoglou’s exciting start at the club, with Son Heung-min, James Maddison and Destiny Udogie hogging most of the limelight. Kulusevski has gone a little under the radar but he has excelled under the new manager. “I love the gameplan,” said Kulusevski after the entertaining 3-3 draw on Sunday. It’s easy to see why he is so happy.
After struggling with various injuries last season and having to play under three managers who tended to restrict the team’s attacking players, Kulusevski has been instrumental in Spurs’ flying start this season. Despite a recent dip in form, the team is fifth in the table, just three points off the top four.
Just as important, they are playing attractive football. When Harry Kane left for Bayern Munich, Spurs lost the most prolific striker in their history. Yet they are scoring two goals a game in the league this season – more than last season with Kane. They are also taking more shots (even though Kane took more shots than any other player in the league last season) and making a lot more passes – an extra 95 per game.
Spurs are taking more risks under Postecoglou and Kulusevski approves. “I love his mentality because that’s how I want to live my life,” he said on Sunday. “It doesn’t matter who you’re playing against or what you’re doing in life, just go. And if it messes up, it messes up. You did it with your heart. You’re not afraid. You’re trying to win the game, not trying to lose the game.”
Surprisingly, Kulusevski’s assist for Son’s goal on Sunday was his first in the Premier League this season. His lack of assists says more about his teammates’ profligacy than his own creativity. Only Mohamed Salah (33) has made more key passes from open play than Kulusevski (28) in the league this season. Maddison has been the creator-in-chief at Spurs this season, setting up five goals so far for his new club. With Maddison missing through injury, Kulusevski stepped up on Sunday. As Spurs fans will attest, this is perhaps the best he has performed since joining in January 2022. Kulusevski has completed more dribbles (24) than any other Spurs player this season. “Now it’s the real me,” he said on Sunday.
The gameplan last season was regimented and reactive, but Postecoglou has given his team freedom. They now rank third for shots per game (15.6), third for key passes per game (12.1) and third for successful dribbles per game (10.4) in the Premier League this season. For context, they ranked seventh for shots, seventh for key passes and 12th for successful dribbles last season.
Kulusevski’s work on and off the ball make him Postecoglou’s ideal winger. Spurs ranks fourth for possession won in the attacking third (88) in the Premier League this season. Kulusevski has won back the ball 11 times in the final third – only Son (13) and Pape Matar Sarr (12) have recovered possession more. His tally of 20 tackles is the fifth in the squad and the players who have made more tackles – Pedro Porro, Yves Bissouma, Udogie and Cristian Romero – are all more defensive.
When it comes to defending from the front and hassling opponents to force turnovers in dangerous areas of the pitch, few do it better than Kulusevski. He buys into the Postecoglou philosophy fully, as he said on Sunday. “We have everything at Tottenham,” he said. “The football is there. The coach is there. We just have to grow a little bit mentally and we’re going to be at the top.”
With the players fully onboard and the supporters welcoming his vibrant style of play and his manner off the pitch, life is good at Spurs once more. And that is epitomised best by Kulusevski.