Son Heung-min the perfect example of how Mauricio Pochettino uses his different weapons to devastating effect
Mauricio Pochettino has seemed remarkably relaxed all week, projecting the clear sense of relishing a critical period in Tottenham’s season. So far, his enjoyment is readily understandable. It’s not just that Spurs got a vital draw away to Real Madrid and then recorded a first win in 11 games against Liverpool to move level on points with Manchester United; it’s that he is going through one of those golden spells in which every tactical tweak comes off.
This time it was the selection of the largely unheralded Son Heung-min that was decisive as he ran Liverpool ragged in the first half. “When you decide to play in some way sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t,” Pochettino said; at the moment, it seems, destiny is bending itself to his will.
That’s important for two reasons.
Obviously, it’s beneficial to have a manager who is confident and decisive, one who identifies a problem and has the clarity of thought to solve it without second-guessing himself.
But at least as significant is the fact that Tottenham now have the options for Pochettino to select from.
He has always been willing to switch between a back three and a back four, to make positional tweaks.
But this season there has also been a capacity to make changes both of style and approach. If there was a criticism last season – and given the inexperience of the squad and the quality of football Spurs played, it was a minor one – it was that they needed to dominate possession to dominate the game.
There was a sense at times that they were a little naïve – something that cost them in the Champions League and also in the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea.
It cost them again in the league this season against Chelsea, at a time when Wembley was still fraught with demons for them. Those, it seems safe to say, have now been thoroughly exorcised.
Since then they have beaten Dortmund and drawn in Madrid while having only around a third of the ball.
At Wembley on Sunday, they had 36% possession. Tottenham have become a team that doesn’t have to dominate the ball to dominate the game.
But it’s more even than that. Tottenham now have the variety in the squad to amend their approach according to the game. On Tuesday, Pochettino caused widespread bemusement by giving Fernando Llorente his first start of the season.
Tottenham had a target man and so were able to stretch Madrid by playing direct.
At Wembley, although the 5-3-2 shape was the same, it was Son Heung-min who partnered Harry Kane. The approach was different.
This wasn’t about sitting deep and knocking it long; it was about lightning transitions when possession was regained and using the South Korean’s pace to exploit the gaps that Liverpool habitually leave behind their back four.
In that sense, Son is the perfect symbol of this Tottenham.
It was only Son’s fourth league start of the season, but there was a clear understanding of his role and how he fitted into the team unit.
Four times during the first half hour, that awkward period when Dejan Lovren was on the pitch, radiating uncertainty, Son got behind Liverpool. Once he scored, once he hit the bar, once he slightly scuffed a shot into Simon Mignolet and once an attempt to play in Kane was cut out.
By the time he was withdrawn midway through the second half, having run himself into the ground, he had played a key role in harrying Liverpool to destruction.
Son will not score the goals that Kane does. He lacks the technical ability of Christian Eriksson. He does not shimmer with menace in the manner of Dele Alli. He will not win headers as Llorente does. But he is quick, his movement is good and Kane seems to revel in playing with him.
Son may not ever be a regular, but in certain games he can be deployed to devastating effect.
That is what makes this Tottenham so promising. Their wage bill may be only half that of Liverpool’s, but Pochettino’s arsenal is far more varied than Klopp’s. Such is their depth that even with Mousa Dembele out, he could leave Eric Dier and Moussa Sissoko on the bench.
With Danny Rose and Eric Lamela both close to a return after lengthy absences, it’s little wonder Pochettino seems so upbeat.
Independent News Service