Heung Min Son is a seriously talented player. Saturday afternoon at Stoke proved once and for all that he is worth persisting with in North London.
Let’s call Son’s first season a traditional “bedding-in” year, where we witnessed glimpses of brilliance amidst frustrating inconsistency. Yet this inconsistency was not just of his own doing. It is no disgrace that the South Korean was unable to nail down a first team place across a highly competitive attacking midfield band of three. Never quite able to usurp the powerful triumvirate of Lamela, Eriksen and the unexpectedly brilliant Alli with spurs at full strength, Son was left to bide his time with cameos off the bench and Europa League starts.
It came then as quite the surprise that Spurs were alleged to have been receptive to offers for the South Korean in the close-season transfer window. Yet the rest of the business his club completed perhaps saw why, and raised more questions. With the additions of Sissoko, N’Koudou and Janssen, would his game time be even more limited? Following the heartbreak of a failed Olympic campaign where the national star was expected to single handedly deliver a medal, would he be able to put that behind him and deliver when needed for Tottenham?
Finally given his first start (and first minutes) of the season on Saturday, the feeling was that Son needed a breakout game. Needing to take advantage of the jet-lagged Erik Lamela’s absence from the starting line up, he duly delivered. The first goal was fluent and oozed class, with Christian Eriksen seemingly walking past an otherwise-impressive Joe Allen to deliver a low ball in to the box where Son volleyed on his left low and swiftly past Shay Given for 1-0.
Son’s second goal for 2-0 effectively ended the contest and surely signalled his arrival as a key component of Tottenham’s 2016/17 squad. Again fed by the back-to-form Eriksen, this time Son took delivery on the floor at the edge of the 18 yard box, exploding the ball across goal and into the top right corner. Son provided the cutting edge that Spurs had seemingly lacked at times last season and certainly early in this, one goal on the left and one on the right. It was simply sublime.
After a man of the match display that highlighted many of his finest attributes, there can be no doubt that the level of trust Mauricio Pochettino has in Son has surely risen. Whether he has done enough to become an automatic starter is yet to be seen, but with performances like this it is surely just a matter of time. Pochettino has shown that he is willing to reward performance, and is not afraid to make bold moves as a result.
But how and where can Son fit in to this increasingly strong XI? The answer may be as simple as an adjustment to Tottenham’s rotation policy. Champions League football means Spurs can no longer field a weakened team mid-week, and more rotation will be necessary in the Premier League. So one of the four prime attacking midfielders (Eriksen, Lamela, Alli and Son) could be left on the bench with Moussa Sissoko and Georges-Kevin N’Koudou providing further depth and competition, at least until they too earn the manager’s trust.
With Moussa Dembele’s imminent return to central midfield and Alli’s ability to drop deeper as evidenced on Saturday, Son’s performance means Spurs are suddenly overflowing with options across the front half of the pitch. Son gives Pochettino a quality alternative that barely existed last season, leading to a less-predictable line up and greater goal scoring power.