Tottenham’s Heung-Min Son was the Premier League player of the month for September and is thriving in a new role following Harry Kane’s exit. We look at how new manager Ange Postecoglou has reimagined Son’s role in the team and why it is working for Spurs
When Harry Kane departed for Bayern Munich, it was easy to assume that it would adversely impact Heung-Min Son. The two had combined to score more goals than any pair in Premier League history. Instead, Son has simply replaced his old partner.
He was the Premier League player of the month for September with six goals in his four appearances. Son has fired Ange Postecoglou’s team to the top of the table, flourishing in an adjusted role. Indeed, it has been a new beginning for the South Korea international.
Last season proved an awkward one for Son. He had been hampered by injury. “It was a really disappointing season for me,” he said in the summer. “Physically, I was not able to play 100 per cent. I did not want to let people down, I wanted to keep going.”
It had appeared as if Son was among those engulfed by the malaise surrounding Spurs and whether the turnaround is physical, mental, or both, he has seemed lifted by Postecoglou’s arrival. It took him until April to score this many Premier League goals last season.
But this is about more than a mood change. Son’s role in the team is different too. In this sense, Kane’s exit came at an opportune moment in his own career. Son still has his pace but, at 31, he was ready to revert to a more central role within the team.
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It feels a natural evolution for a player who, at 6’0″, is physically robust and can finish powerfully with both feet. Cristiano Ronaldo made that same journey from the wing to the centre and while Son still drifts out wide, Kane’s absence opens up new avenues.
He is doing much more of his work inside the opposition penalty box now. That is reflected in a seismic shift in the numbers. A player who was typically having fewer than 10 per cent of his touches there has had almost 20 per cent of his touches in the box this season.
All six of his Premier League goals under Postecoglou have come from inside the box, a useful illustration of that positional change. Only Erling Haaland has outscored him in the competition this season. Nobody has scored more since the start of September.
It is clicking under the Australian. In fact, curiously, Son might be more natural in this system than even Kane, given that Postecoglou prefers his striker to run in behind and occupy centre-backs. In doing so, Son is able to free space for playmaker James Maddison.
Kane, of course, would drop deep and perform that function himself – to great effect. But the fact that Son ranks fifth for runs that challenge the back line – behind Haaland, Nico Jackson, Ollie Watkins and Dominic Solanke – hints at his evolution into a true striker.
Was this always the vision? The reason why Postecoglou did not rush to reinvest funds following Kane’s record-breaking sale? “It is not exactly why, but it is one of the reasons,” said the Spurs boss after Son’s hat-trick in their 5-2 win away to Burnley.
“I have got a picture in my head of what I want the team to look like. It is about putting all the pieces together and, at the same time, not neglecting what is right in front of you. Sonny, whether he is playing central or wide, has got all the characteristics.
“He can play in any system, but the way we play, he is ideal.”
That means pressing. Son’s athleticism remains remarkable. He has covered more distance while sprinting to close down the opposition defenders than any other player in the Premier League so far this season. It sets the tone for Tottenham from the front.
“He has been outstanding as a leader and as a player,” said Postecoglou after a typically energetic performance against Arsenal. “When you put him in that position, he just works so hard and team-first orientated. His first thought is what is best for the team.”
This question of what is best for the team is a fascinating topic at Tottenham right now. It still feels ludicrous to suggest the loss of one of their greatest-ever players could work in their favour. Kane is thriving with Bayern. It is too early to say that he will not be missed.
But Spurs still have a selfless forward who scores goals and creates space for those around him, one perfectly suited to the manager’s new style of play. Right now, Kane’s sale is working for Spurs. Improbable as it might have seemed, it is working for Son too.