Johnson or Kulusevski? Assessing Tottenham's right-wing conundrum

Dejan Kulusevski has been struggling in recent matches, while his regular replacement, Brennan Johnson, has shone through in big moments; It begs the question of who should be starting for the final run-in.
Kulusevski has faltered lately, while Johnson has thrived. Who should start now?
Kulusevski has faltered lately, while Johnson has thrived. Who should start now? / Alex Pantling/GettyImages

Following Tottenham's laborious 2-1 win over Luton Town this past weekend, it was noticeable how the team struggled to find their attacking edge in the first half. Though the same team from the Fulham loss was fielded, more of the same traits popped up: Spurs were caught sleeping on defense early on, conceding the first goal of the match to Luton, but managed to grow into the game as it went on.

Spurs wouldn't find the back of the net until after halftime when Brennan Johnson replaced Dejan Kulusevski at right wing. Johnson's whipped cross toward Timo Werner led to Issa Kabore's goal in the 51st minute. Johnson would then lay off a ball in the box that Hueng-Min Son struck for the game-winner. And just like the Fulham match, Kulusevski's play was less than ideal.

For the past few matches, Kulusevski's production has dried up. He hasn't been supplying assists or key passes as often as he was earlier in the season. An article in The Athletic outlined that low crosses and high pressing have enabled Tottenham to score goals fluidly, giving examples from the last few matches.

Johnson was involved in every goal author Ahmed Walid included. Kulusevski's only notable goal involvement pointed out in the piece was an assist to Johnson when he was playing left-wing against Wolves in December.

The right-wing position is becoming an interesting dilemma for Ange Postecoglou. Though he has started Kulusevski most matches, Johnson has come on at halftime or early in the second half of the last five matches. His direct style has been instrumental to Tottenham's attack, registering 11 goal involvements since signing for the club in September.

Kulusevski, meanwhile, has struggled for goal involvements in the last few matches. He has been locked down by opposing defenders several times, getting tackled and losing possession almost too easily. His last assist came in the Villa away win, and his last goal was in the home loss to Wolves.

Kulusevski and Johnson each bring a unique dynamic to the attacking system Ange has implemented, but which one deserves to start?

Johnson or Kulusevski? Assessing Tottenham's right-wing conundrum

If it weren't for a log jam of central attacking midfielders (James Maddison and Giovani Lo Celso), Kulusevski would likely be playing in his preferred No. 10 role. His skill set is closer to that of a midfielder than a natural winger, but often his ball-carrying and vision from RW have set up stellar goals from Richarlison, Son, and Johnson.

However, Kulusevski's left-footedness is slowing down the attack, as he rarely uses his right foot. He tries to cut inside too often, making it harder for Maddison and Son to slip in behind defenders for goals. He isn't as pacey as Johnson, which is almost a requirement in Ange's system.

It is good to have competition in the team, especially with fitness issues creeping in again. Johnson could do with a start after being the go-to "super sub" when Spurs are chasing the game. Meanwhile, fitness issues for Maddison could see Kulusevski shift centrally, where he was doing well while the England international was out injured.

At the 1-1 draw to West Ham on Monday, Spurs looked lively going forward, and Johnson opened the scoring after a lovely cross from Timo Werner. Kulusevski was dropped to the bench but made a late cameo in replacement of Maddison. The Swede made some progressive passes, but he failed to tee up a strike that could've been the game-winning goal.

In this match, Johnson continued to show he may warrant starting over Kulusevski, but Ange will tinker with the lineup until he gets the best possible output from every player. However, fatigue and fitness play a role in the team sheet come Sunday's match with Nottingham Forest.

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Right-wingers used to be a serious concern for Tottenham, but now it's a good problem.