Kulusevski shines in opening-day 4-1 win over Southampton

Spurs fell behind early but came back to win the 2022-23 Premier League season opener in north London on Saturday.

After 12 minutes, James Ward-Prowse gave Saints the lead, followed by goals from Ryan Sessegnon, Eric Dier, Mohammed Salisu (own goal), and Dejan Kulusevski as Antonio Conte’s side picked up where they left off at the end of last season.

Spurs scored four goals on the opening day of the season, with Harry Kane and Heung-min Son contributing only one assist each. Spurs’ dynamic duo took a comfortable back seat on Saturday after combining for 40 goals and 16 assists last season, as Kulusevski largely ran the show from the right side. Tottenham were a constant threat after conceding the early goal, winning the ball high up the field and creating scoring chances with one or two simple passes. In that situation, Kane and Son typically gorge themselves on goals and assists, but perhaps this season they’ll be more balanced and multi-faceted in their approach.

Eric Dier celebrating

Saints were clearly the better wide for the first 15 minutes, while Spurs took their time settling in. When they did, it was as if a switch (on both sides) had been flipped, as wave after wave of pressing and attacking came at them. Gavin Bazunu, 20, had a solid debut in terms of shot-stopping, but the Irish international gave the ball away too easily when trying to play out of the back. Everything Saints tried to do after Tottenham equalized was done under duress. Because the midfield had no time on the ball, the forwards were deprived of any kind of service other than the occasional counter-attacking opportunity.

Spurs’ first two goals came from crosses from wide areas, with Kulusevski and Son creating as much out wide as they did in the middle. In Conte’s system, maintaining width, whether through wingers or overlapping full backs, is critical. When playing three at the back, you run the risk of becoming far too narrow in possession, resulting in very little build-up in the final third. Son and Kulusevski are most dangerous when running off Kane in the channels, but they’re both equally willing to stretch the field to put someone else in danger. Spurs will struggle to break down defenses if the midfield and attack become too compact and narrow, and the wing backs are forced to defend deeper (read: against Manchester City and Liverpool).

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