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Reborn Heung-min Son central to Ange Postecoglou’s front-foot plan at Tottenham

Reborn Heung-min Son central to Ange Postecoglou’s front-foot plan at Tottenham

Another instinctive finish from Heung-min Son was largely forgotten amid the drama, chaos and searing controversy of Tottenham’s 2-1 win over Liverpool.

Son opened the scoring with a sixth goal of the season, bringing up 200 in European football, barely two minutes after Luis Diaz’s disallowed effort should have stood following an horrendous blunder from VAR Darren England -- which drew scathing condemnation from Liverpool.

Refereeing decisions were the story of Saturday’s match but Son’s development from a winger into a central striker is increasingly one of the most intriguing sub-plots of Tottenham’s transformation under Ange Postecoglou.

The Australian’s predecessors Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho both believed Son was a poor fit to lead the line for their counter-punching teams, lacking the presence to hold up the ball and better suited to playing wide, where his pace and directness were deadly in transition.

"First of all, he’s not a striker," Mourinho said in February 2021. "He scores like a striker but he’s not a striker. He’s a winger."

Later that year, Conte said: "I have seen that Son played [as a striker]. Honestly I prefer Son to play in the position that he is now playing [winger].

"I like to have a point of reference as number nine."

Under Postecoglou, however, 31-year-old Son appears to be entering a new phase of his career as an elite centre-forward.

In this new-look, possession-based Spurs, Son’s ability to press from the front, instinct for reading the game and remarkable finishing -- he has consistently outperformed his xG (‘expected goals’ metric) at Spurs -- makes him a deadly No.9.

His opening goal against Liverpool was another innate piece of penalty-box play as he darted ahead of two defenders to finish first time, much like his first goal against Arsenal last weekend.

Son added a second from an almost identical piece of play in the second half, again doing superbly to get in front of his man and nick the ball past Alisson, but on that occasion Richarlison had strayed offside from James Maddison’s outstanding pass.

And only a magnificent save from the goalkeeper denied Son scoring a stunning volley and bagging another double against a ‘big six’ rival.

Son’s link-up with Harry Kane will take some beating as the most lethal partnership in Premier League history but an unexpected consequence of the England captain’s departure to Bayern Munich has been to free up Son to play through the middle.

Lethal: Son is firing as a central striker in this new-look Spurs team (REUTERS)
Lethal: Son is firing as a central striker in this new-look Spurs team (REUTERS)

Last season, Kane challenged Erling Haaland for the Golden Boot but this term it could be Son, whose six League goals have come in just four starts through the middle and shared the award with Mohamed Salah the season before the Norwegian arrived in England.

Given Spurs’ commitment to attacking under Postecoglou, Son will continue to get chances week on week.

Postecoglou said on the eve of the season, and with Kane on the verge of signing for Bayern, that Son could play as a striker in his system but the head coach plainly needed some convincing, playing his new captain on the left wing in the first three games of the season, with Richarlison leading the line.

Even as Spurs took seven points, Son was relatively quiet but he has not looked back since moving up front against Burnley, scoring a hat-trick in a 5-2 win.

It was telling that Postecoglou started Richarlison out of position on the left against Liverpool rather than revert back to playing Son out wide, and this is likely to be the way of it at Spurs for now, with the Brazilian set to play from the flank or be used from the bench.