Heung Min Son has been out of the Tottenham first-team for a while and, since returning from injury, hasn’t looked quite as sharp as he did back in September. In fairness, that’s understandable: aside from the odd Europa League and FA Cup game, Son’s minutes have been limited and he hasn’t really had the opportunity to return to full sharpness.
Last night, he did this:
A beautiful goal, certainly, and one which was important within the context of Tottenham’s season. More pertinently, however, it was a reminder of what Son can do with the ball at his feet and it made a strong case for his re-introduction into Mauricio Pochettino Premier League eleven.
The South Korean’s ability to find the net from range is a well-established part of his game, but last night’s goal owed a debt to the player’s two-footedness and the subsequent inability defenders have to pre-empt his actions. By his own admittance, Son’s right side is stronger than his left, but he’s a threat of either foot and his highlight-reel from the Bundesliga attests to that.
That’s what made the goal. Erik Lamela and Tom Carroll combined quickly and accurately to put Son into a one-on-one situation with Leicester full-back Will Chilwell, but it was the fear of what might happen which flummoxed the teenager and that moment showed the problems defenders encounter when in isolation with unpredictable players.
At the point at which Son advanced on Chilwell, it was noticeable that he didn’t actually do much with the ball. He didn’t advance with any great speed and the position he was in (corner of the box, four Leicester defenders around him) wasn’t particularly threatening. Chilwell knew he had defensive support, but was also aware that Son could beat him off either foot - and so so quite rationally stood off the tackle and looked to slow down the move.
Had that been any other Tottenham player, he probably wouldn’t have acted in the same way - a purely left-footed player could have been ushered towards the touchline, a right-footer could have been shown inside towards the defensive traffic.
Conversely, Son presents a pick-your-poison situation and Chilwell’s passivity afforded him far too much space. One touch, twenty-five yards, One-Nil.
Tottenham are currently struggling a bit in the attacking third. Whether it’s fatigue or a product of the way opponents are choosing to defend against them, a lot of their moves are breaking down in the area just in front of the penalty-box. It’s a numbers thing: against Leicester in the league and for much of the game with Sunderland, Spurs struggled to find space against teams who were content to stack players behind the ball and block up the middle of the pitch. Without meaning to criticise any of the individual players - this is a small squad and a marginal regression was inevitable at some point - they have become more predictable and the speed of their non-counter-attacking phases has noticeably slowed.
And that’s why Son’s return to form is well-timed. With Pochettino’s front-four showing signs of physical wear and tear, now is the opportune moment to introduce a player who can not only make space for himself, but who can then translate that advantage into something more tangible. The natural counter to negative tactics is the employment of individuals who can beat men in one-on-one situations and who force defenders to be passive - and an in-form Heung Min Son is exactly that sort of weapon: his diverse movement, his ability to shift-and-shoot off either foot, and the energy he brings to a forward-line are all ingredients which Spurs are in need of.