Dejan Kulusevski and Richarlison returns ease Tottenham worries and could offer Antonio Conte blueprint

Dejan Kulusevski and Richarlison returns ease Tottenham worries and could offer Antonio Conte blueprint

The likely return of Dejan Kulusevski and Richarlison to the Tottenham side for tomorrow’s visit of Leeds is a welcome boost for head coach Antonio Conte, particularly amid concerns over Harry Kane’s condition.

Kane was withdrawn after an hour of Spurs’ Carabao Cup defeat to Nottingham Forest on Wednesday, with Conte admitting afterwards that he was “really, really tired”. He will surely start a 22nd club game of the season this weekend, but may not be able to complete 90 minutes against Jesse Marsch’s high-octane side.

The whole nation will be keeping one eye on how Kane fares in the final round of League fixtures before the World Cup, and there will be an element of strangeness in seeing England’s captain in a top-level domestic game nine days before Gareth Southgate’s side face Iran in Qatar.

The pressure on Kane should, at least, be eased by some support up front, with Kulusevski and Richarlison both in contention to start, after the former came off the bench in the defeats to Liverpool and Forest and the Brazilian returned from injury at the City Ground.

The game will be Kulusevski’s last competitive minutes before Boxing Day, with Sweden not at the World Cup, while Richarlison will be hoping to gain sharpness before wearing the iconic No9 shirt for his country in Qatar, following nearly a month out with a calf strain.

Key returns: Dejan Kulusevski and Richarlison could both start for Tottenham against Leeds (Getty Images)
Key returns: Dejan Kulusevski and Richarlison could both start for Tottenham against Leeds (Getty Images)

Kane, Kulusevski and Richarlison have started together just once — in the 6-2 demolition of Leicester in September, which was most memorable for Heung-min Son being dropped before scoring a brilliant hat-trick from the bench.

Before their injuries, Conte rotated between Kulusevski and Richarlison on the right wing, but the latter, a summer signing from Everton, is happier playing from the other flank, a position usually occupied by the injured Son.

If they click as a three this weekend, it could be a pointer for the second half of the campaign, when Spurs will be expected to be more dominant and on the front-foot than in the opening months of the season, which have been largely effective, yet underwhelming.

Spurs are stumbling over the line into the winter break and the statistics make grim reading for the Italian, whose side have not scored in the first half of their previous eight matches and have fallen 2-0 behind in each of their last five games.

Conte has blamed fatigue, but Spurs have also suffered from a glaring lack of both intensity and finesse in the final third

Conte has blamed fatigue, but Spurs have also suffered from a glaring lack of both intensity, particularly in the first half, and finesse in the final third.

The return of the turbocharged Richarlison should raise the tempo, while Spurs are a totally different side with Kulusevski, who knits together their forward play. The Swede underlined his importance with an assist for Kane’s 11th League goal of the season 81 seconds after his introduction against Liverpool.

Spurs’ stuttering performances have been much easier to excuse while key players were absent and there is pressure on Conte’s side to improve with Kulusevski and Richarlison back on the pitch this weekend. A new-look forward line increases the chances of Spurs ending the half-season on a high and offering a slightly jaded fanbase fresh optimism for the second half of the campaign.