Son Heung-Min showed glimpses of what we can expect from the South Korean star in a Spurs shirt, indicating there is more to come.
Son Heung-Min said all the right things when quizzed about his first Spurs appearance. The South Korean international smiled that it was ‘amazing’ to make his debut, but his words were laced with disappointment. “I can definitely play better,” said a subdued Son who clearly wanted to give the fans more.
Whilst downbeat, Son did show plenty of effort and work rate, a nice touch on the ball and a forward thinking approach. Once he gets on the same page as his new teammates, then there is plenty more to come.
When players like Mousa Dembele and Nacer Chadli were filling the wide berths, we’ve had very little to stretch the field in terms of speed. Son Heung-Min provided that, even though the ball often didn’t find its way to him during his 61 minutes on the pitch. The South Korean was consistently making darting runs beyond Harry Kane.
In the opening minutes we can see here how Nacer Chadli gets on the ball and Son Heung-Min, then darts forwards beyond Dele Alli looking for the ball in-behind. Chadli sees the run and tries to find him, but Younes Kaboul does not get drawn out by Alli coming short and cuts out the lob pass.
A few minutes later and he was off again as Ryan Mason picks up possession this time.
Without any pressure on Mason, Son Heung-Min runs forward once more looking for the pass to be played over Harry Kane. The striker coming short does drag out a defender this time, opening up the lane behind him.
Mason was unable to complete the pass, but Son was looking to make this out to in run several times when we picked up the ball in midfield. His cue was often Harry Kane or Dele Alli coming short, looking to pull a centre back out with them to create space for the pass to be played in to.
Getting between the lines
Another thing Son Heung-Min did well was to get in-between the Sunderland lines of defence and midfield. His movement was often stealthy and well timed, just as he does here to drift in to space.
The above image shows what he was doing well, but also something that needs to be worked on. A lack of familiarity with his teammates meant that Son often filled spaces that others were either in or looking to move in to. Here he had taken up an intelligent position, but Nacer Chadli was also moving in here. This naturally caused congestion and was part of the reason why we lacked width and tempo to our attacks.
Becoming more familiar with how Mauricio Pochettino’s system works and how his teammates play will come once Son settles in. He was naturally moving in during the game, often too early and so bunching attacks.
Here we can see how Kane, Alli and Son all look to get between the lines to drag the Sunderland defenders about, but just end up narrow in the same space. This signifies a communication and familiarity issue between all three.
Forward thinking passer
Son’s movement to run in-behind was promising. In getting between the lines he showed intelligence of where the space lies, even if it wasn’t always productive. His forward passing also displayed an attacking intent, even if his radar wasn’t quite yet in-tune with the team.
When Son Heung-Min wasn’t trying to push up the field, he was actually dropping off in to some very clever positions. From there he was able to pick out passes for teammates to get them in to good attacking areas.
Here we can see how he drops off the front in to space, letting Kane, Chadli and Alli run forward to attack the Sunderland back line.
Son picked out a pass to Nacer Chadli that got him in down the side of the Sunderland defence, before the Belgian laid the ball off to Ben Davies to cross. It was a nice piece of movement by the South Korean to create time and space for himself before picking out an aggressive pass to expose the Sunderland defence.
Another example saw Davies involved once more as he made a darting run to get in-behind. Son had again dropped off and looked for him here with a reverse pass that was just slightly under hit, allowing Billy Jones to recover and clear.
Son Heung-Min played a number of these passes, however, they often fell incomplete or were dealt with by the Sunderland defence. A few more weeks working with his new team mates and he should be finding them.
Playing for a side like Bayer Leverkusen that quickly counter presses when losing the ball, Son Heung-Min is a player that will be well suited to what Mauricio Pochettino wants. Here he was closing opponents down, but was sometimes out of sync with the rest of his team mates. This did cause him to lose his defensive positioning during the game.
Here we can see how Son Heung-Min tries to harass and close down Younes Kaboul with no backup support. Not only is it expending unnecessary energy, but leaves Kaboul with an easy pass to Patrick van Aanholt who can move forwards unopposed.
What Son did wasn’t wrong; pressing is an integral part of Mauricio Pochettino’s system. However, without backup support and working as a team unit to close down then it is just fruitless and tires players out. This again points to a familiarity with team mates and the system which will come in time, but overall in the match his work rate was encouraging and his energy to press heartening.
Rays of Sonshine in Son Heung-Min debut
Son Heung-Min’s debut may not have gone the way he’d hoped and had a fairytale finish, he did miss-kick a glorious chance, but it did give us glimpses in to what we can expect.
Once his teammates start to spot his runs in-behind faster and he works out how to drift between the lines without congesting the space of others, we’ll have a very good player on our hands.
We’re yet to see the true nature of his two-footedness or his ability to dribble past people, so when he says he can do better, I, for one, believe him.