Tottenham Hotspur's Son Heung-min has been in excellent form this season. While Harry Kane inevitably attracts most attention, Spurs’ versatile forward has offered plenty to contribute to Tottenham's dynamic style and has become one of the Premier League’s more unique forwards when analysing his output and performance.
In this two-part blog we explore Son Heung-min's performances, both this season and historically. This first section focuses exclusively on the player's performances for Tottenham Hotspur, and his evolution into one of the league's most dangerous players.
Part two will explore what might have initially attracted Tottenham to the forward.
The table below shows Son's goals and assist contribution across his three seasons in north London. Joining in the same summer as fellow side forward Clinton N'Jie, both players had to be patient in waiting for their opportunity to establish themselves as starters. Only one of them managed this and Son has further established himself within Pochettino's plans with each passing season.
Force him onto his left, or his right...
What makes Son valuable in the Premier League is just how comfortable he is at shooting from either foot – from a range of angles and positions.
We can further analyse these last 50 shots.
What can we learn about Son from this? From range, we see a pattern of cutting inside and using his 'other foot', whereas closer to goal we'd expect him to go the other way, shooting with his right from the right hand-side, for example.
We now look at chance quality using expected goals. Looking at the above shot map, Son’s 16.8 xG total isn’t a surprise, but only four players have outperformed their xG to a larger extent since 2015.
While he sits alongside some of the league’s best finishers, Son’s ranking here is supported by a fruitful 2016/17 campaign, which the forward has built on this year. Son’s contribution to a high volume shot team has paid dividends, and always looking to get that shot away once in the final third will have certainly contributed to this.
Creativity and involvement
There is more to Son's game than his two-footed shooting. In a fluid forward line, Son's creativity also warrants further analysis.
Son has four assists so far this season. These are supported with strong expected assist figures, perhaps reinforcing the emerging thought about the player’s high quality decision-making in the final third.
Taken from OptaPro's ProVision tool, the pass map below visualises Son’s key pass zones compared to the rest of the Premier League since he joined Tottenham in 2015/16.
Now we move on to explore his wider contribution to Tottenham's play.
We do this using the Opta sequence framework. Looking at Son’s involvement in open play sequences alongside Tottenham’s other trio of primary attacking players, we get an interesting picture of his involvement – sitting somewhere in between Harry Kane (not involved so often) and Dele Alli (involved more often than Son). It's unsurprising that play tends to revolve around Christian Eriksen, and we've seen that Son's greatest contributions come at the end of moves. The forward is likely to be Tottenham’s outlet option, rather than the creator playing that first pass through the phases.
Percentiles have been included in this table to allow us to compare outputs against the rest of the league.
Shot involvement per 90 tells an interesting story. Son is involved in 6.9 shot ending open play sequences per 90 – putting him comfortably in the top 10% in the league. Evidently there are some team effects here (players on teams that shoot more will dominate this list), but it is telling that he has cemented a role in finishing Tottenham’s moves, rather than being involved more in initial build-ups.
Finally, Son is also heavily involved in sequences that start in Tottenham’s own third and end in the opposition's third – which we deem as ‘Transition’ sequences in this context. He’s involved more so than Harry Kane, but precisely the same amount as Christian Eriksen. This is a testament to his ability to run with the ball at speed – Son’s one of only two players (alongside Kevin De Bruyne) to be involved in two transition sequences involving only him.
Son has developed and progressed significantly since joining Tottenham. Exploring the player’s contribution using data, we are able to see how his role has evolved, and how his play has adapted as he cemented his position in the starting 11. In part two, we’ll explore Son’s attributes before he joined Tottenham, analysing how the player would have been identified as someone who could contribute to Pochettino’s side.