Cartilage Free Captain is again reviewing the Tottenham Hotspur first team players after the conclusion of the 2016-17 season. Up next: winger Son Heung-Min.
Appearances: 48 (34 PL, 5 FA, 1 League Cup, 6 Champions, 2 Europa)
Cards: 2 yellows
What went right?
It was evident in Son Heung-Min’s first appearance with the club, an away start at the Stadium of Light, that he could play. Widely considered a coup, his transfer was both unexpected and quite reasonable compared to other transfer fees floating around at the time. There was a dazzle in his game from the start, he always looked dangerous, but his fluidity with the team seemed just a second off. Just a few more matches to adjust and he would flourish, was the common sentiment among many.
Yet that first touch seemed to fail him at the most inopportune times and in the open field he would beat a defender, only to leave that next dribble a half-yard too far from his body. He also looked nervous in front of net. As time passed, the jitters didn’t seem to leave and those adjustments weren’t being made. Add to the mix the resurgence of Erik Lamela and the overwhelmingly awesome form of Dele Alli, and Son suddenly wasn’t featuring as much as anticipated in his first season at White Hart Lane.
Erik Lamela started and scored Spurs’ first and only goal in the season opener, but injured his hip not far after. With Dele and Christian Eriksen securing two of the three spots in the attacking band, it always was going to be a battle between the Argentine and South Korean for that third spot. Now Sonny had his chance and boy did he capitalize on it.
Sonny catapulted himself into thin air status in the 2016-17 season. A twenty goal campaign for a striker is a more than decent return, for a winger it is prolific. It’s not quite Gareth Bale proportions, but it’s a truly fantastic return. If one takes into account that Son started in just 23 games in the Premier League, then his 14 goals in that competition are even more impressive.
Sonny’s breakout season was a healthy mix of both individual and external factors. Externally Son benefited from Erik Lamela’s injury and Vincent Janssen’s struggles. Among the reasons why Son had such a scorching second half was due to the fact that Poch preferred Son to Janssen in place of an injured Harry Kane. If Janssen was effective, maybe Son’s run of starts would have been more interrupted throughout the year.
Individually there was just more bite to Sonny’s game too. Those errant touches he showed in 2015-16 seemed to disappear and what came to fruition was a frightening attacker. Sharp on the ball, decimating on the counterattack, possessed with endless energy, and the ability to destroy defenders in isolated situations, all led to a marquee campaign. Sonny occupied flanks for the entirety of matches and with the other lethal options in Spurs attack, teams just simply couldn’t afford to double and triple team him. Add to the fact that he was deadly in front of net, with some utterly outstanding strikes, and it was a breakout year for the twenty-four old.
What went wrong?
Not much went wrong for Son Heung-Min. For somebody who was rumored to have a real possibility of leaving the club last summer, this season was proof of giving players time to adjust to the Premier League. Yet if I had to pick something that went wrong for Sonny it would be his consistency. He absolutely lit up the Premier League in both its start and finish, but was less effective in the term’s middle part. If you look at the big performances and goals that he had, they mostly fell between those two stints of incredible form.
The second knock, and this is going to sound like what I said about Eric Dier, is that for how great Sonny was this season, he hasn’t totally locked down a guaranteed place in the starting eleven for next term. He is pretty much formation dependent. Dele and Eriksen are notches ahead of him in pecking order for starting in a 3-4-3, but he is a pretty safe bet to feature in in the attacking band of 4-2-3-1. Considering that the 3-4-3 was our most effective lineup, this means that if the team is fully healthy, Sonny will be starting on the bench
I know I just said above that the one knock on Son Heung-Min was his consistency over a full season, but I think that most would sign on the dotted line for a replication of Son’s returns for the 2017-18 campaign. He was electric throughout and was one of the most exciting players to watch on the ball on Tottenham Hotspur and the Premier League in general this year.
At twenty-five years old Son still has some room to grow, but really Spurs will reap the rewards of the South Korean in his prime. There are questions of Erik Lamela’s return or some big name signing being brought in, but if Son can keep up the level he put forth this season, he will shine once again for the lilywhites.