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Tactics Thursday: Reviewing Strikers Vs Southampton

That was... mostly not good.

Tottenham Hotspur v Southampton - Premier League Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images

When we talked about striker options last week, I said that my main concern with Son Heung-Min concerned his ability to work in tight spaces and make the right decision in possession. His pace and intelligent movement are great assets, but those alone are not enough to make him a good striker. Against Southampton, we saw the things Son does well, but we also were made painfully aware of his limitations.

What Son Did Well

Let’s start with the positives: In the early going the best chance came to Son off a wonderful ball down the wing from Christian Eriksen that Son nearly turned into a goal:

Note Son’s play in this sequence: He sees Eriksen get the ball and he just bursts forward at a full sprint hoping to get on the end of a long ball.

Later in the first half, Son made a late run that Eriksen was again able to pick out from the top of the box. The ball was just out of his reach, but it was another example of how Son works as a striker.

Sonny also set up Dele Alli for the sequence that led to the penalty which accounted for Tottenham’s winner:

The third sequence shown above is surprising as Son is not renowned for his hold-up play or his deft touch in the box. But in that particular sequence he showed both. If that can become a more regular part of his game he could become more of an actual backup for Kane rather than the emergency backup he is at present.

The first two are more what we expect from the Korean winger: He’s fast, he times his runs well, and he looks to get on the end of vertical or diagonal passes.

Son’s Positioning and Overall Play v Kane’s Positioning and Overall Play

The passes he received in the game show this same style. He is fine at running off the defender’s back shoulder, running into space, etc.

There are a lot of long balls played over the top plus even most of the short passes are being played vertically rather than laterally.

The other thing to note here is that Son is not receiving many lateral passes nor is he receiving the ball in deeper positions. This is particularly noticeable when you compare Son to Harry Kane. Here are Kane’s passes received in the 3-2 win against Everton:

This is something Kane does extremely well. He loves to drop deep or drift into wide areas to receive the ball and then run at the defense or play the ball to one of his fellow attackers. Son is not comfortable with this kind of play, which makes the Tottenham attack more one dimensional.

Janssen’s Cameo

During his ten minute cameo, Vincent Janssen had two chances to distinguish himself. The first came in the 89th minute when Dele Alli received a long ball and held it up on his own inside the Southampton 18-yard box. Dele managed to control the ball for a reasonably long time, but Janssen never made an aggressive run to get into a dangerous central position. Instead, he checked his run and waited at the edge of the area. It was the wrong decision.

Moments later a fine first touch from Janssen sprung him on a two-v-one with Dele to his right. A simple pass played into space ahead of Dele would almost certainly have given Spurs a third goal. Instead, he chose to take a tough, contested shot from a tight angle. Again, he made the wrong decision.

Besides that, the only notable thing Janssen did was get fouled a lot. To be sure, getting fouled a lot is a valuable skill when you’re trying to waste time. But if you’re a striker and the thing you seem to be best at is “drawing fouls when we need to waste time,” you probably shouldn’t be playing for a Premier League team with Champions League aspirations.

I keep wanting to withhold judgment on Janssen. I shouted down people who made Soldado comparisons during the season’s opening months. But, well, Janssen wears number nine, runs around doing tons of #TryHard things that can’t help endearing him to fans even if his actual quality is questionable, and generally lacks the decision making and technical ability in the box required to be an elite striker. Who does that remind you of?