The Evolution of Spurs’ Sublime South Korean Son Heung-Min

It’s hard to talk about Tottenham Hotspur without bringing up the goal-scoring prowess of Harry Kane, the midfield energy of Dele Alli, or the pinpoint passing of Christian Eriksen. But one player who has really started to make his way into the spotlight is Son Heung-Min.

The South Korean left Bayer Leverkusen for Spurs in the 2015/2016 season, but he initially struggled to make much of an impact at his new club. After a spell in Germany characterized by exciting performances but not so many goals (11 goals in 30 appearances the season before he left), the 23-year-old Son hoped to find his true potential and discover his goal scoring form under Mauricio Pochettino at the North London club.

But he would have to wait at least a season as it turned out. His first Premier League campaign only saw four goals and one assist from the South Koran attacker in 13 starts and 1107 minutes played. To be fair to Son, the odds were stacked against him from the start. Players that have never played in England frequently have trouble quickly adapting to the pace and physicality of the Premier League. He also was not able to immediately nail down a consistent starting spot or position. That was partly due to Pochettino still experimenting with an ever-changing squad. Also, unfortunately for Son but incredibly fortunate for Spurs, his arrival coincided with the second coming of Harry Kane.

Harry Kane was just coming off the back of his breakthrough season, and there were a lot of questions surrounding his ability to recreate his stellar form in his second season as Tottenham’s main striker. But he quickly dispelled the notion that he was merely a one-season wonder, scoring 25 goals in the league that season. In that case, it’s hard to fault Pochettino for not wanting to mess with a winning formula.

But enough about Kane. What was Son’s place in all this? Well, the issue goes back to consistency. With so many undroppable attacking players in the team, Son took the playing time he could get and was stuck playing in any of the positions along the attacking line. Being constantly forced to switch between left wing, right wing, and centre forward makes it more difficult for a player to enjoy a consistent run of form, so it’s a wonder that Son was able to produce goals for Spurs at all.

However, after a series of promising performances last season, he’s began to force his way into the plans of Mauricio Pochettino. Although Harry Kane remains at the forefront of Tottenham Hotspur’s attack, Son Heung-Min is finally being appreciated for his qualities and ability to create and score goals.

The Evolution of Spurs' Sublime South Korean Son Heung-Min


The Son Starts to Shine at Spurs

So let’s take a look at how Son’s quality has shined through for Spurs lately. Last season he upped his best-ever goal tally in the league, scoring 14 times in 23 starts and 34 appearances. Although many of his goals came in thrashings of poor teams, he scored several times to rescue points for Spurs, driving them to a 2nd place finish. Examples include an equalizer in a 2-2 draw with Manchester City, and winning goals away to Middlesbrough (2-1) and Swansea City (3-1).

But it was clear that there was room for improvement for Spurs’ star in the making. After finding a consistent position on the left wing this season, Son has found a better way to help his team through goals, assists, and energetic performances on his side of the pitch. So far, in 23 appearances and 1465 minutes played, Son has scored 8 league goals. While his goals to minutes ratio is not quite as good as last season, several key areas have improved: the importance of his goals, his assists, and scoring in other competitions.

Let’s look at when he’s scoring his goals. His first goal in the league was scored in Spurs’ 4-1 win over Liverpool. It’s still a thrashing, but instead of scoring against lower-level opposition in the dying stages of a decided match, Son had scored the second goal to make it 2-0 to Spurs within 12 minutes. It is much more likely that his goal made a big impact in ultimately deciding the match.

A couple of games later, Son scored Spurs’ only goal against Crystal Palace to give the home side a nervy 1-0 win. 2 more points won by the South Korean. His other main contributions involve two 1-1 draws salvaged with goals (equalizers against Watford and West Ham) and the first goal against Everton in Tottenham’s recent 4-0 win.

With 600 fewer minutes played, Son is only two assists short of his tally from the previous season. What this shows is that even with a reduced goal-scoring burden, Son is making contributions from his position on the left to make his team play better and win more often. His skill in that regard is best summed up by his ridiculous spin move to set up Harry Kane for Tottenham’s second goal against Everton, putting the away side to the sword after he scored the first.

The common theme in Son’s growth at Spurs has been consistency. He always had the quality to propel his team to success, but now he’s showing it on the pitch. A clear example of his consistency is his streak of scoring in 5 consecutive home games for Spurs in the league. It took him a while to get started this season, but now the skillful attacker is in wonderful form and he doesn’t look like stopping.

Son is also scoring consistently in multiple competitions. Compare this season’s Champions League campaign to last season’s. It’s like night and day. Last season, he scored only 1 goal from 6 starts (425 minutes played) and Tottenham were dumped out of the CL in the group stage. This season, however, he has scored 3 times in 5 appearances (329 minutes) in a much harder group, leading to Tottenham winning their group against the likes of Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid. One of his goals even gave Spurs a crucial away win against Dortmund.

He’s no Neymar or Cristiano Ronaldo, but Son arguably doesn’t have to be. For Spurs, he is the perfect piece of the puzzle to complement their system, and he’s finally showing it where it matters: on the scoresheet.

All stats obtained from WhoScored.com

Michael Hurtado

Michael Hurtado is 21-years-old and joined GB Articles' Writing Team in April 2016. He was promoted to an editorial role in June 2016 and reports regularly on Atletico Madrid, English Premier League, Spanish La Liga and Major League Soccer. Michael became interested in football after watching the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. He thought: "Hey, this sport is pretty cool" and this inspired him to write about the beautiful game.

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