Son's purple patch

Two goals apiece at Middlesbrough and Stoke, a man of the match display against Sunderland, and the winning goal in Spurs’ first champions league victory in five and a half years. There’s no doubt about it - Son Heung Min is Tottenham’s man of the moment.

All this from a player who struggled to get into the first team last year, and was apparently unhappy enough to be keen for a transfer during the summer. Just how exactly is the South Korean doing so well at the moment?

His improvement this season has indeed been dramatic, but perhaps should not have come as too much of a surprise. He arrived at the club last year with the reputation of being a fine young talent following an excellent few years in the Bundesliga and as an experienced international for Korea, so much so that the £22 million price tag felt like a bargain.

He also showed flashes of what he is capable of last season, particularly his finishing ability - a last minute improvised backheel nutmeg winner against Watford and an 18-yard strike at Leicester in the F.A. Cup being two major highlights. 

The main difference this season is that he has shown such quality on a regular basis. This new-found consistency can no doubt partly be explained by the fact that he now has a whole season of acclimatising to the premier league under his belt. But the purchase of a genuine back-up centre forward in the form of Vincent Janssen, that has consequently allowed Son to always play in his favoured position on the wing rather than cover for Harry Kane, has also surely contributed - as exemplified by his first goal against Middlesbrough, where he played a brilliant one-two with the Dutchman to burst in from wide right and score. 

There’s also a sense that, having turned 24 in July, Son is still at the stage of his career where he is continuing to mature and develop. In other words, the Son we’re seeing now isn’t just better than the one we saw last season - he’s also threatening to surpass the player that took the Bundesliga by storm.

Statistically, two elements of his game stand out as having improved - his goal threat, and his dribbling ability.

In Germany Son was a regular goalscorer, scoring at a reliably prolific rate of roughly a goal every three games (11 in 30 and 10 in 31 at Bayern Leverkusen in 2014/15 and 2013/14 respectively, and 12 in 33 for Hamburg in 2012/13). But this season he’s been even more explosive in front of goal, scoring four in three in the league and five in five in all competitions.  

It’s too early in the season to say whether this marks a long term trend, but the fact that he is getting more shots off than ever (4.7 per game this season, substantially higher than his previous career high of 2.7 per game in 2013/14) suggests his current purple patch isn’t down to some fluky finishing, but rather through getting more opportunities to test the opposition keeper. 

The other main feature of his play has been desire to take on defenders as often as possible. His average of 4.7 dribbles per game is higher than any other play to have made at least one start this season, and is in stark contrast to his average of just 0.6 per game last season. Again, his average in the Bundesliga in this regard was relatively high - 2.7 per game in 2013/14 and 1.6 per game in 2015/15 - but falls short of the numbers he is currently producing. 

Watching him on the pitch, it’s clear Son is setting out to run with the ball almost every time he receives it. The strategy doesn’t always work, and he often ends up losing the ball. But the potential rewards of his perseverance were made clear in his stunning second goal against Middlesbrough where he lost the ball having dribbled past several players, only to win it back, run past some more, and fire off a superb finish. 

That goal epitomised all of Son’s best attributes, and is arguably his best goal for Spurs to date. At this rate, we can expect to see several more moments of similar quality from our South Korean star. 

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