Tottenham might not find the quality they need in Heung-min Son as they scramble for ways to make up for Harry Kane’s absence.
Mauricio Pochettino certainly trusted the South Korean enough to push him into the striker role following Kane’s exit from Tottenham’s match against Millwall on Sunday.
Admittedly, Son repaid Pochettino’s faith in him. He scored a hat-trick of goals and assisted another, thereby proving to be the most influential force in the 6-0 victory.
Realistically though, one cannot divine Son’s influence in the coming weeks based on that game alone. Millwall spend most of their weekends in League One, and hardly represent the kind of opponents Son will have to best if he wants to keep Spurs in contention for a Champions League spot.
It would be more informative if we considered Son’s influence outside of the Millwall match, and indeed outside of any of the cup games in which he’s thrived.
Son’s most prolific period since his arrival at Tottenham in the summer of 2015 began at the tail end of his first season and stretched into the opening weeks of his second.
When Dele Alli earned a suspension that ended his own debut season three matches early, it was Son who came into his place. In what was perhaps the lowest point in Tottenham’s otherwise great season, Son was the brightest light. He scored two goals and, after suffering months of setbacks and injuries, finally seemed to be coming into his own.
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Disappointment over the summer with South Korea at the Olympics did nothing to set Son off the pace upon the beginning of the 2016/17 season. In the three weeks between his seasonal debut on September 10th and the international break in early October, Son scored four goals and set up two assists. It was a run that earned him the Premier League Player of the Month award.
The last of those matches came against Manchester City, just a week after Kane suffered his previous ankle injury. Though Vincent Janssen was available, Pochettino elected to field Son in a centre-forward role he had not yet featured in for Spurs in the Premier League.
It was a gambit that proved wildly successful. Son didn’t even attempt to imitate Kane’s presence in the squad. Rather, he worked the channels between City’s porous defense, stretched them out and created space for Dele Alli and others to earn a memorable 2-0 win.
Son’s success is that role was as dependent on City’s weaknesses as it was his own ability. His was not a classic centre-forward game; it relied instead on the technique and skills of a crafty winger being pushed into the center of the pitch. Against teams who wouldn’t field as high of a line, or such slow defenders, it might not work as well.
Which makes Son more of a niche option at striker. It is far from certain he has the skills to beat Premier League teams like Burnley who will sit back and deny any and all space. Furthermore, his drop off in form following that October international break suggests teams quickly learned how to play against him.
In matches like this weekend’s visit from Southampton, Son might have more of an impact. The Saints are more likely than not to afford Son some space to exploit, though his on-and-off finishing ability might continue to plague him even when he’s given chances.
Pochettino should take a pragmatic approach to covering for Kane then. Janssen is suffering through a rough debut season in the Premier League, but as a proper centre-forward he is the man Pochettino should rely on for most matches going forward. Tottenham’s attack functions best when it has a focal point, even if that point doesn’t score quite as liberally as Kane.
More in Janssen’s impact in the days to come.