Son Heung-Min arrived at Spurs for a fee of £22 million, so we look at the strengths and weaknesses of our new South Korean star.
Energy, effort and intensity are just three characteristics instantly associated with Son Heung-Min.
Nicknamed ‘Sonaldo’ he lit up the Bundesliga with his hard working, two-footed, direct dribbling style. Two seasons on from first being linked with us, the 23-year old is finally here and ready to bring his attack-minded game to the Lane.
The first thing that strikes you about Son Heung-Min is just how direct his play is.
Everything is done with purpose in his game and the reason behind it is to get either himself or the ball forwards. This usually involves either using his pace to run in to attacking positions or dribbling with the ball at his feet.
In the Bundesliga, both Hamburg and Leverkusen used his direct running to their advantage, trying to get him in the open field where he can be devastating. They looked to get the ball to him on the move, as he is far better running on to it than having to receive it with his back to the opposition’s goal.
Take Bayer Leverkusen’s match with Wolfsburg last season. Son Heung-Min floats across the pitch from his starting position on the left, but also note just how many passes are played forward to him rather than square or sideways. These were often played over distance to set him free in to space.
Another example was at home to champions Bayern Munich. Again Son is free to drift from his starting position on the left as he floats off centre forward Stefan Kiessling. He works really well off a centre forward so that he can dart in to the free spaces as the striker takes the attention of the centre backs.
This movement then allows Son to set up the second part of his game, his ability to dribble-drive at opponents and leave them standing.
Son Heung-Min is a direct runner and his dribbling is full of purpose as well. Many players dribble the ball in order to shield it, spin out of trouble or avoid a challenge. Son is a player that drives at an opponent in order to commit and go past him with minimal fuss and maximum directness. This sees him go quickly past opponents with little time for them to recover or for teammates to get over and help.
Son is not afraid of shooting. With two equally good feet that are capable of unleashing a rasping shot at any time, why should he be? Attempting 2.5 shots per game for Leverkusen last season showed that he wasn’t shy and with 38% on target he is always a threat to trouble the keeper.
His preferred method is cutting inside from either flank and striking the ball looking for the far corner. An excellent, although extreme example of this, was Leverkusen’s Champions League win over Benfica where he continually cut inside looking to get his shot away across goal.
Overall, there is one situation where Son is always liable to shoot. He is extremely effective at running and firing at goal when he gets in to the open field. He is highly likely to surge towards the penalty area and round the goalkeeper; one of his favourite was to finish off a sweeping counter attack.
Son’s direct running and dribbling will have drawn the attention of Paul Mitchell, Rob Mackenzie and Mauricio Pochettino, but so to will have his hard work in Leverkusen’s pressing game. The South Korean played in a very up-tempo gegenpressing Bayer Leverkusen side that liked to squeeze up and try to win the ball back as quickly as possible.
As you can see from the activity in the Wolfsburg half, this often saw Leverkusen regain the ball whereby they could immediately get in to attacking positions. However, the aggressive nature of their counter-pressing also saw them foul, highlighted by the number of black triangles in the opposition half of the field.
Even against Bayern Munich, Leverkusen were not afraid to play their counter-pressing game. Again, they regained the ball in the opposition half, despite often fouling.
Son Hueng-Min was a key part of Bayer Leverkusen’s pressing play and his hardworking, energetic style helped them achieve this. He is able to tackle and close down opponents, but like many on the Leverkusen side, he is susceptible to giving away free kicks.
Son Heung-Min is an exciting player but he does have areas that he needs to work on.
He is tall; at 184cms he has size that aids him playing as a wide forward against smaller full backs. However, he isn’t strong physically or in the air either and this could be a problem for him in the more strength-focussed Premier League.
Son is a direct runner and effective dribbler of the ball, but he is not an adept crosser, preferring to drive in to the box and shoot. In 30 appearances in the Bundesliga last season, he attempted just 28 crosses from open play and completed just 6. Mauricio Pochettino likes his wide forwards to be on the end of balls in to the box rather than providing them, so Son Heung-Min fits the bill of what we require. However, it does reinforce the point that we will be increasingly reliant on our full backs for service, something that has been lacking so far this season.
Son Heung-Min is very direct and his runs frequently end up with him shooting at goal, but this can mean he misses passes to others in better positions. Spotting teammates and finding them with chance generating passes is something he needs to work on and has to improve.
What Son Heung-Min brings to Spurs
Son Heung-Min is an exciting and electric talent full of potential.
His direct running, dribbling and two-footed style will capture the bulk of the attention, but he is a very hard-working and a team-orientated player too.
He does need to become more consistent. He is still very young at just 23 years of age and he can be a streaky player in terms of his goal and assist production. The hard-work and team focus is always part of his game, but the steady output of goals and assists needs to follow.