It’s really funny to picture Son Heung-min as the Dread Pirate Roberts, because he might be the Premier League’s jolliest player. Anywho…
Yesterday, during a turgid match at Burnley (are there any other kind of matches at Burnley? Even the name “Burnley” sounds turgid), Tottenham looked short of ideas. They looked rather insipid, in fact. They didn’t manage a shot on target throughout the entire first half. Whatever momentum Spurs had been building over the previous weeks looked to have stopped cold in the cliche, miserable Lancashire night.
And then Harry Kane and Son Heung-min combined for a goal in the second half and Spurs won, which seems to have become a natural law. At least the first part has.
It was Son’s 8th goal of the league season. He’s played six games. It was Kane’s eighth assist. He’s also played only six games. It was the sixth goal of Son’s that Kane assisted. It was the eighth that they’ve combined on. They are just about the most destructive striking force in the world right now, non-Bayern Munich division.
Son leads the Premier League with his eight goals. Kane leads the league with his eight assists. Both are second and third in the Premier league in expected-goals-plus-assists, which measures the chances they’re creating, behind Liverpool’s Sadio Mane. The Premier League record for combined goals from teammates is 52 over a 38-game season. Kane and Son are on pace for 81. They obviously won’t get there, injuries and loss of form are a part of every Premier League season. And will probably be an even bigger part of this condensed one. There’s also a healthy helping of noise in the numbers, as Son is scoring on 57% of the shots he takes and 80% of his shots on target. His career marks on those are 18% and 39%, respectively. Still, they’re simply a delight at the moment.
It’s something of an evolution/revelation for Kane. After pouring in 20+ goals for four straight seasons between 2015-2018, Kane couldn’t break that plane the past two seasons. Questions about whether ankle injuries had permanently kneecapped him from the world class level, or whether the burden of being Tottenham’s everything had also contributed to that, followed him everywhere. Even Spurs fans were wondering if they’d already seen the best of their vice-captain.
Kane had always been a much better passer than he got credit for. Part of the derision of that part of his game was due to a freekick display with England in Euro 2016 that would be best described as Kafkaesque. But mostly his passing range was relegated to crosses from wide when he had shifted out there during the course of a game to find space.
This season, Kane has taken the Roberto Firmino-role — the center forward who drops deep to find space and launches passes to the wide forwards while linking with the midfield — and put it on HGH. Firmino does a lot of things for Liverpool and is indispensable, but his actual goal-scoring contribution falls way behind that of Mane’s or Mo Salah’s. He’s a facilitator. Kane has become that facilitator, but hasn’t lost his finisher role either.
Son’s four-goal display against Southampton back in September looked something of an anomaly at the time, but was apparently a warning shot to the whole league. Every Son goal was a result of Kane dropping, picking up the ball, and then pinging an inch-perfect pass over the Southampton backline for Son to run onto. Their goal against West Ham two weeks ago was the same, and Kane’s pass to Son bordered on pornographic.
The only worrying aspect of all this is that Spurs need Kane to be all these things, and it’s a wonder how long they can keep this up. Whether Spurs play in a 3-4-3 or a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, their midfield does not contain any creators. Tangay Ndombele, Moussa Sissoka, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Giovanni Lo Celso, Harry Winks, these are all grafters. Their creators are out wide, in Son or soon to be Gareth Bale and their fullbacks Matt Doherty and Sergio Reguilon. Kane is their only inspiration through the middle at the moment. But, as Spurs fans will no doubt point out, Liverpool won a league title and a Champions League with most of their creation in the middle done by a center forward.
It’s the pace that will worry. Kane can’t drop deep, set up Son or Bale or others, and then sprint forward to finish chances himself as well all season. His heart will explode by February. The numbers also suggest sustainability is going to be an issue. Still, Son is averaging far more shots on target per game (1.94) than he ever has, which means he’s getting into better spots for better chances, even if his conversion rate at the moment is straight Peter Pan. That rate of shots on target over a season with his career conversion rate would still result in 23 goals for the whole season. Kane’s per game shots on target is back to the level of his 30-goal heyday.
But that’s a problem for another day. Kane’s and Son’s magic has Spurs in fifth in the league, just two points off the top. And in this Premier League season where the sky is green and up is down, a team that looked utterly miserable under Jose Mourinho just three months ago can do just about anything. A strikeforce this potent, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge who hold that record for most goals between two teammates in a season, once brought a complete mess of a Liverpool team within a whisker of a league title seven years ago. Goals are the name of the game, after all.