Fulham vs Tottenham: Radu Dragusin patience pays off as Spurs defender gets chance to make impact

There cannot have been a seemingly more impactful substitution this season than Radu Dragusin’s introduction at Aston Villa last weekend.

The Tottenham newcomer replaced Micky van de Ven shortly after half-time with the game still goalless. Within a minute, Spurs had scored, and three minutes after that, they were two up, Ange Postecoglou’s side going on to win 4-0 and boosting their chances of a top-four Premier League finish at Villa’s expense.

In reality, Spurs’s second-half rally had relatively little to do with Dragusin, but it was nonetheless an encouraging performance by the January signing from Genoa.

Though Spurs dominated the half, the Romanian was busy. He made a series of solid interventions defensively — Villa Park let out a collective groan when the big screen showed a replay of him being struck right where it hurts — and showed good variety with his passing. “I thought he handled it really well,” said Spurs boss Postecoglou.

Crucially, the 22-year-old did not look out of place in Postecoglou’s high-pressing side, despite playing on his less-favoured left side, and is likely to be rewarded with his first start at Fulham on Saturday evening, with Van de Ven expected to miss out with the hamstring injury he picked up.

Dragusin turned down interest from Bayern Munich to join Spurs in a £26.7million deal, but has had to be patient since, playing just a handful of minutes in three cameos before he was thrust into the action last Sunday.

He has been unfortunate that Van de Ven and Cristian Romero both returned to fitness around the time he signed, but Dragusin always knew he would have to wait for his chance — and the competition for places was part of the club’s attraction.

Florin Manea, Dragusin’s agent, said this week: “The coach always talked to him and told him to stay calm, that everything will be fine, to be patient. They had a well-established plan. He had to wait his turn and help his team. It was normal, because the two defenders [Van de Ven and Romero] played very well together and it was difficult to take them out.”

Rejecting Bayern was obviously a big decision for Dragusin — it paved the way for Eric Dier to follow Harry Kane from Spurs to Bavaria — but the Romania international was also sold by Postecoglou’s project and felt wanted by Spurs, who had targeted him a month before the start of the window.

He was desperate to prove himself in the top flight, too, saying it was his “dream” to play in England after his debut at Manchester United in January.

In-form: Muniz has impressed for Fulham of late (Action Images via Reuters)
In-form: Muniz has impressed for Fulham of late (Action Images via Reuters)

At Fulham, he should get his chance, as Spurs eye an opportunity to narrow the gap to the top three, none of whom are in league action this weekend. It is likely be to a proper test at Craven Cottage, particularly given the form of home forward Ricardo Muniz.

After failing to find the net in the first half of the season, Muniz has taken advantage of the injury to Raul Jimenez and scored five goals in six games. Only Ollie Watkins and Bukayo Saka have been involved in more goals in the top-flight since the start of January.

The Brazilian’s form has restricted loanee Armando Broja to just a handful of substitute appearances since joining from Chelsea in January and if, as expected, the Albanian does not start tomorrow, the Cottagers will have to pay their neighbours £4m. For Fulham to avoid the fee, Broja must start every remaining league game.

Fulham have struggled for consistency but are broadly overachieving this season, and boss Marco Silva’s ability to coax some form from first Jimenez and now Muniz has been a huge part of their resilience.