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A New Son Shines On White Hart Lane

How the South Korean became Spurs’ most in-form player.

One year and 20 days ago, I wrote this article highlighting the potential of Spurs’ £22 million summer signing from Bayer Leverkusen: Heung Min Son. 

Last year, you may not have heard of the Korean winger. Now, his big, wide smile is plastered everywhere after helping Spurs to their best start to a top-flight season in 51 years. Although we’re only six games in, has Son listed as their top rated player in all of Europe. 

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For me, Kevin de Bruyne has been even better, but with the Belgian and Harry Kane ruled out for weeks due to injury, Son has a chance to be the best performing player in England these opening months. 

So what changed between this and last season? How did Son turn from a player that divided opinion into Spurs’ most in-form player? What can we expect from the South Korean coming into this season? Let’s get into it.

Quiet Momentum

At the end of a brilliant season, Tottenham completely collapsed after losing their title chances at Stamford Bridge, with a 2-1 and 5-1 loss to Southampton and Newcastle. But one diamond appeared out of the rough for Spurs, and that was Son. One of the few players to leave Chelsea with his head held high, Son scored two of his four league goals in the last three games, most notably this brilliant solo effort against Southampton. His determination, close-control, and composure in the box displayed in this goal would serve as a preview for what was to come. 

So even though Spurs couldn’t have ended last season any worse, Son quietly became one of their most in-form players since April. Moreover, perhaps due to their humiliating exit from the Euros this summer, Dele Ali and Harry Kane have not started this season at their best. In their place, Son has stepped up fantastically to provide the goals and assists. 

Settled In

The Bundesliga and Premier League are the most similar in physicality and pace, but English football is still notoriously difficult to adapt to. Top players from Germany, such as Andre Schürrle (returned to Dortmund), Shinji Kagawa (returned to Dortmund), and now Sadio Mane, have often struggled to make an immediate impact. 

Son always had the right attributes to succeed (pace, tenacity, and directness), and now he’s clearly settled in, evident by his much improved English and great relationship with the team. It’s clear from his teammate’s comments that they are all delighted to see Son perform and will work hard to facilitate his goal-scoring form. 

Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld had this to say:

“He’s a great guy. He’s always smiling, everyone loves him. He’s a great character around the training ground, he’s good with everyone, very social. Everyone just loves him.” -JV
“It’s easy to say when he’s got three man of the match [awards from the last three games], but on the training ground he always shows how much quality he has. In small-sided games, he’s always one of the best. He shows how good he is.” -TA

Key Teammates

First, I will mention Lamela not because of their chemistry, but because he was the one keeping Son out of the team last season. Lamela’s form has dipped recently, allowing Son to take his spot in the team without pressure from fans or the manager. 

In terms of their actual play, Eriksen and Janssen have been the key to Son’s success. The Korean winger is somewhat creative, but he was at his best in Germany running onto the final pass or receiving the ball to his feet in and around the box. And as anyone who’s watched Eriksen would tell you, he is the perfect man to play those perfectly weighted through-balls for Son to gobble up.

It’s no coincidence that the Dane assisted Son on both his goals at Stoke two weeks ago:

A new face at Spurs, 22-year-old Vincent Janssen can fill the role that Stefan Kiessling played for Son at Bayer Leverkusen. The Dutch striker can improve on his finishing, but he is fantastic with his back to goal, made evident by his textbook assist to Son against Middlesbrough. Harry Kane’s hold-up play is also good, but he’s a more selfish striker who would much rather turn and shoot in the box than lay off a pass. 

Son, who is a goal-scoring winger, not an attacking midfielder, will always be better suited to Janssen’s selfless style of play. So expect Son to score plenty of goals during Kane’s absence due to ankle injury. That being said, the Korean winger has seemingly improved on all aspects of his game this summer. 

A New Position and Looking Forward

In a MOTM performance against Sunderland, Son was whipping in world-class crosses and corners for virtually the entire game. Somehow, bad luck and poor finishing kept him from ending the game with an assist. But if he can continue to replicate that sort of performance throughout the season, there’s no doubt that Dele Alli, Kane, and Janssen will start to provide the finishing touch. 

Not to mention Son has been starting on the left, meaning he can easily cut inside to shoot on his favored right or do the opposite to swing in a cross. Last season, Son was playing on the right, which meant he could do neither as well, even though he’s certainly one of the most two-footed players in the world.

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Clearly, Son is a special talent capable of world-class moments, but his biggest problem at Hamburg and Leverkusen was his consistency and tendency to drift out of games. During his inevitable dry runs this season (assuming he doesn’t go on to score 20+ goals), Son’s ability to drill in deadly crosses with either foot will mean the difference between an invisible performance and a hat-trick of assists.

As I said before, Son is renowned as a goal-scorer, not a selfless provider. But if he can forget the fact that his efforts were fruitless against Sunderland, his new-found ability to create from the wing gives him the potential to be one of the Premier League’s best and most dangerous attacking players this season. 

Edited by Justin Peroff.

How many goals did Stefan Kiessling score for Leverkusen as the league's top scorer in 2012/13?
Created 9/26/16
  1. 30
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  3. 25
  4. 19

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