If I ever fashioned myself as a hard boiled newspaper reporter, my achilles heel would be creating proper headlines. But there it is, let’s get to the KPA –Korean Players Abroad roundup. Later on, we’ll finally get to Asian Champions League updates (we’re in the midst of group stage matchday 4 and the plot thickens).
Weekend Recap March 10th
A lot of defensive action on Saturday but Son offsets that with fireworks on Sunday.
Koo Ja Cheol — Koo played in a deeper role than previously, more as a CM than a 10, and was decent in that role with his usual combative play despite Augsburg spending much of the match in their own half. He did miss a chance to score with a header from pointblank range, but Augsburg took advantage of their few chances and somehow won easily.
Ki Sung Yueng — Like Koo, but even more extreme as Swansea were reduced to ten men early and basically put most everyone in the box. Ki reflected his side’s defense first approach and rarely got chances to go forward but did hustle to disrupt the opposition attack. He looked totally drained when subbed off in final minutes and the hard effort resulted in a decent point ahead of next week’s FA cup match.
Lee Chung Yong — Came on in the final ten minutes and despite me not paying too much attention, looked to be decent in the few chances to touch the ball.
Kwon Chang Hoon — I only saw the second half and he was subbed off early. He looked to be fighting hard and well so a bit surprised but perhaps reflective of problems in the first half.
Suk Hyun Jun — He came on in the final 20 minutes as Troyes in their search for goals in their relegation fight looked to their other forward from the start. Neither scored and Troyes remain in the relegation zone.
Lee Seung Woo — An unused sub but a derby win keeps Verona’s survival hopes alive.
Son Heung Min — When Kane went off, things looked bad with Tottenham looking slow after last week’s CL disappointment. Son was trying hard and doing ok in the first half, particularly starting off the attack that allowed Tottenham to level. Then Son upped his game in the second half, and proceeded to score a brace, first repeating his mishit goal from midweek with a volley off his shin for his first, then getting behind the defense and dribbling around GK for his second. While he’s not a perfect #9, Son showed better ability to feed his teammates too and of course getting the goals to at least be a decent substitute while Kane is out. Another MOTM showing from Son who has emerged as an increasingly key player for Tottenham.
Tavern Owner back. The focus, of course, is back on a certain Son Heung-Min, whose goals explosion and return to scorching form coincides with some serendipitous timing: a Four Four Two exposé in the recent March edition, the banner headline summed up as “Son: I hope to win the Ballon D’or” or something like that. Ordinarily a bold pronouncement like that would draw scoffs, Son silenced any critics following audacious stunts such as scoring against Juventus at Wembley last week in the Champions League, giving his side a tremendous chance to advance to the quarterfinals (probably not a spoiler alert to say Spurs blew a 2 goal aggregrate lead), and netting a whopping 7 goals in his last 4 games. That won’t win you a Ballon D’or necessarily, but it does strongly lend credence to the notion that Son Heung-Min has arrived in the coterie of elite European ballers — namedrop status has been unlocked. There’s still the ‘under-rated’ tag that is bandied about, which suits the humble-brag that is Son’s modus operandi. Yet the qualities that define his non-glitz/anti-primadonna persona has worked two-fold to Son’s advantage, amongst both supporters and the footballing media cognoscenti inside and out of England. I don’t believe Son has deliberately tried to craft a brand image, other than working hard to succeed – but inadvertently, he’s riding a wave that’s yet to crest fully. Here’s the tags presently associated with him by said media in recent months – now amplified by his present production rate: hard working, pacy, technical, creative, perennially attack-minded, a constant threat and last but not least, a knack for finding the back of the net. That last part hasn’t always been consistent, it still isn’t entirely (see missed shots last Wednesday against Juventus), and yet, Pochettino and outside observers (Dan Kilpatrick/ESPN) have relayed Son’s dedication to staying after practice (along with Harry Kane) as naturally tied in to his improvement and his rising importance within the club. How’s that for making headlines – not with drunken escapades off the pitch – but for his smiling, positive, hard work grindstone ethic. It seems so unlikely, but that’s what the media has glommed onto.
Son shines on the south coast! 🌞 💪
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) March 12, 2018
And what a time to step up in light of recuperating from their Champions League exit. Spurs looked to be on their heels at Bournemouth on Sunday, going down a goal early AND losing Harry Kane to an ankle injury. Son (who filled into the center forward role), Alli, Eriksen, with help from Aurier and Lamela righted the ship and for the first time all season, Spurs managed a complete comeback and then some, a eye pleasing 1:4 scoreline. With the win, they leapfrog over Liverpool to take 3rd in the table. Son played a part in all the goals produced, first releasing Aurier down the left channel and picking out Alli for the equalizer. In the 2nd half, after recycling the ball in the area, Son drifted toward the right far post, Alli was able to find Son and …a mishit volley that ricocheted off the ground – fooling both Bournemouth defender and Begović – the ball bounced it’s way on into the top of the net and glory for Spurs. Perhaps it’s a burgeoning speciality for Son, a parallel goal in the Juventus game, a Son mishit spun wickedly past Chellini and Buffon last Wednesday. Late in the match, Erickson stopped Bournemouth’s desperate all-hands-on deck-assault, found Son with acres of space, and the Korean forward was off to the races. This was another delicious goal, a three way race with Lamela running in parallel on Son’s right and a defender splitting the difference; as he grew closer with the nervous Begović in front of net, Son beckoned for Lamela to receive the ball; instead Son opted for gansta’ mode, rounded Begović, and for the 2nd Prem game in a row, delivered the killer blow with a successful 1v1 attempt. Dan Kilpatrick wrote this in ESPN about how Son’s successful 1v1’s recently has almost extinguished the rep he’s had for blowing 1v1’s:
— Dan Kilpatrick (@Dan_KP) March 12, 2018
That was the other tag Son has had: makes the hard chances look easy but blowing the easy chances. No doubt (and the Tavern mentioned this a fortnight ago) Son’s been working on this under the watchful eye of Pochettino. Much as Pep Guardiola has been rightly praised for making good players better, the same could be said of Poch who fields one of the youngest squad in the Prem. That better goal scoring efficiency meant for Son this:
🔝 SON SOARS TO 1ST PLACE 🥇@SpursOfficial ace Heung-Min Son has topped the Sky Sports Power Rankings – but it was close at the top of the chart this week. See who else was up there: https://t.co/X7Y4Do0Hiq pic.twitter.com/vuOpx9HlWm
— Sky Sports PL (@SkySportsPL) March 13, 2018
*Ki Sung-Yeung makes #14 on that Power ranking.
ESPN differed slightly, putting Son in at #7 in their Power Ranking. Doesn’t matter, Son’s hitting his stride again, though KNT manager Shin Tae-Yong had to weigh in as well:
“I hope Son can perform in the World Cup like he currently does for his club, but I’m concerned that Son’s red-hot form could cool down around the World Cup period,” Shin said in Seoul.
“No player can maintain his best form all season long. I’m really worried that Son’s form might go down from May, with his concentration waning and him becoming physically fatigued.”
Way to be positive Shin Tae-Yong. Ok, all sarcasm aside, any international manager has to be concerned about injury/burnout/fatigue for their in form talismans right before any World Cup. ICYMI Son and Ki were both called up for the late March friendlies against Northern Ireland and Poland. Don’t miss Jinseok’s post on the March call ups here.
A few more items about Son filtering through the wire, this one by John Duerden. He brought up that specter of looming military conscription that awaits Son – IF he doesn’t win military exemption via an Asian Gold medal next August (not entirely certain Spurs will release Son, even if it’s in their best interest to free him up possibly from his military obligations).
— John Duerden (@JohnnyDuerden) March 12, 2018
It sums up what we know about Korean military conscription and how it can affect many Korean footballers, Duerden does get one thing kind of wrong about Son joining Sangju Sangmu, the army football team of choice for those who don’t get military exemption by way of certain tournament medals: Son is technically not even eligible for Sangju Sangmu. I’m jumping the gun here, andwe haven’t even gotten to the point of worst outcomes, that is Son missing out or falling short of Asian Gold for the hybrid U23 Korea squad in the 2019 Asia Games. That squad allows for 3 overage players to join up – usually top Korean footballers who vitally need military exemption to extend their footballing careers. But should Son somehow not get military exemption, this is the point that many in European media get wrong about Son’s options; because he hasn’t played a single minute in the K-League (he would need at least 6 months of playing time in the K-League to be eligible for military or police football teams) Son would go from playing Champions League ball to…not playing football at all. Desk jobs for the Korean military would be possible, however, unless there are new amendments to the rules, Son would spend his entire Army service of 18+ months in a state of footballing hiatus. Which would go without saying what a shame that would be – a black mark for Korea on the inability to find a legislative solution to allow for Son (and others) to continue top flight European football without this unnecessary distraction. There are reasonable alternatives that could be put into play -we’ve written in the Tavern ad nauseam about what other countries with strict military conscription do to allow their top footballers to defer their duties without any public blowback – including this In Bed With Maradona piece about the issue in 2014. Without question, Son is now the best Korean footballer in generations – an international football phenom with the dual role of footballing diplomat for Korea. Imagine the very real possibility of him suspending his incredible footballing journey that’s breaking records left and right…it’s just surreal. Approaching the peak of his career is a looming and very distinct reality that Spurs supporters and Son himself is bracing for very soon after the World Cup.
But let’s end Son’s segment on a positive note, first a head to head comparison of Son vs Dybala from last Wednesday:
Son Heung-min vs Paulo Dybala chalkboard. (via IG: onevolante) pic.twitter.com/ncumXdvajF
— Steve Han (@RealSteveScores) March 8, 2018
In a number of metrics, Son outdid Dybala.
and finally a new song from supporters for Son Hueng-Min erupted at Dean Court on Sunday :
Son was moved by the song, a retrofitting of a support chant originally celebrating Cyril Knowles, an iconic left back for Spurs in the 60’s and 70’s. The Cockerel Chorus band had a left field hit single in the UK back in 1973, which goes “Nice one Cyril, nice one son, nice one Cyril, let’s have another one.”
🎼 'Nice one Sonny!' 🎼
"I got goosebumps. I'm a really lucky guy!"
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) March 12, 2018
Note: a new song? Debatable as some supporters claimed in forums that it started taking off during the last several Wembley games. Nevertheless, the song was captured on camera and by the network mics on Sunday, so it’s safer to say the song has taken hold and more or less blown up, starting at Dean Court.
Let’s shift over to Ki Sung-Yeung, who along with Swansea are having a bit of a spring renaissance. Ki is approaching the end of his contract when this bit of news came over the twitter/wire in the last 2 days:
— Swansea City Online (@SwanseaCityLive) March 12, 2018
ESPN’s Max Hicks commented on hearing the link: “Shame it’s taken until Ki’s final contract year for a manager to consistently play to his strengths. Had he been used as a #8 or #10 these past few seasons instead of a #4/#6, he would not leave on a free, but for a £25m+ transfer fee.”
Ki, like his teammates, look revitalized. He even scored a week ago against West Ham. Personally, a move to a club like, oh let’s say a Jurgen Klopp led Liverpool could be really interesting…we’ll keep monitoring this situation.
Quick note on Lee Chung-Yong: sure Roy Hodgson looks bereft of ideas for Crystal Palace, and yes Palace is in the relegation zone…but for the 11 minutes Lee was on the pitch, he looked decent. He was involved in the buildup that led to Palace’s late goal. Let’s cross fingers for the Blue Dragon to get more time out there. Escape from the rel’zone isn’t too far fetched for Palace, there’s only 6 points separating their 18th place with 12th place Bournemouth.
Over to Asia, K League clubs are holding their own in the Asian Champions League group stage thus far. Before matchday 4, this interesting stat showed the overall points per country – they look far better when compared to where K League clubs were at this point last season.
🌏#ACL2018 COUNTRY PERFORMANCE
🇶🇦 4 teams ➡ 22 pts
🇰🇷 4 teams ➡ 21 pts
🇨🇳 4 teams ➡ 19 pts
🇮🇷 4 teams ➡ 18 pts
🇯🇵 4 teams ➡ 16 pts
🇺🇿 2 teams ➡ 9 pts
🇸🇦 2 teams ➡ 9 pts
🇦🇪 4 teams ➡ 7 pts
🇹🇭 1 team ➡ 4 pts
🇦🇺 2 teams ➡ 3 pts
🇭🇰 1 team ➡ 0 pts
— The Asian Game (@TheAsianGame) March 7, 2018
Today, Ulsan lost a heartbreaker, losing 1-0 to Shanghai SIPG despite numerous chances. Hulk to Eriksson was the difference maker.
— AFC Champions League (@TheAFCCL) March 13, 2018
Meanwhile, in Shanghai, Suwon Bluewings recorded an impressive 0-2 away win, Dejan with a superb one-timer broke the deadlock in the 2nd half, and Choi Sung-Kuen swept in a late game goal after chaos caused by a long throw in.
— AFC Champions League (@TheAFCCL) March 13, 2018
Tomorrow Guangzhou Evergrande will visit Jeju (6am US EST/7pm Korea Time) – the home side really has to get results to stay alive in their group, while the ever dominant Jeonbuk should have a stroll at Tianjin Quanjian (8am US EST/9pm Korea Time).
Vincent Kompany, responding to Gary Lineker via Twitter, said about full stadiums in England: “Less empty seats leads to a better TV product but also better atmosphere, which in turn affects testosterone levels and territorial behaviour in players, therefore increasing home advantage. There’s financial value in every added league point too.” – a point that K-League executives would be wise to heed.
We’re out of time, I’d love to talk about Korean women’s performance in the Algarve Cup, but we’ll try to carve out more time later this week perhaps. Chal ga!