2019-20 KPA News Roundup: Lee Kang-in, Hwang Hee-chan & Sonny’s Brace

Welcome to the first edition of the 2019-2020 KPA News Roundup series! In this series, we here at the Tavern will shed light on the biggest news on Korean players abroad this season. Today, we cover Lee Kang-in, Hwang Hee-chan, and, of course, Son Heung-min’s outstanding performance against Crystal Palace last Saturday.

Lee Kang-in Makes Surprise Appearance at Camp Nou

Just two weeks after making his debut with the KNT senior team, Lee Kang-in found himself facing the likes of Luis Suarez and Gerard Pique. With two-thirds of the match completed, the teenager would make a substitute appearance during Valencia’s heavy defeat to Barcelona at Camp Nou last Saturday. This marked LKI’s first appearance under new Valencia manager Albert Celades and his second La Liga appearance this season.

With Marcelino no longer at the helm of Valencia, many are now contemplating the quantity of playing opportunities that LKI will receive this season. The midfielder is no longer bound to a conservative 4-4-2 formation that limited his chances to shine in his natural CAM position. Instead, LKI will be playing under a manager who will be leading a senior squad for the first time in his career, domestically or internationally. KNT fans and LKI followers alike are anxious to see what Celades has in store for the 18-year-old. 

While managing Spain’s youth national teams from 2013 to 2018, Celades was tactically known for his reliance on the 4-3-3. During his time with the U-21 national team, in particular, he consistently employed the formation with “two midfielders and two creators behind the striker.” LKI, who was the red-headed stepchild in Marcelino’s setup, now has four spots to compete for if Celades sticks to historical accuracy. He now has something of a lifeline with Valencia, perhaps enough for a chance to compete regularly by the end of the La Liga season.

Hwang Hee-chan’s Remarkable Return to Austria + UCL Preview

Following a much-needed season-long loan at German second-division club Hamburger SV, Hwang Hee-chan has returned to Austria as quite a force to be reckoned with. This season, the physical attacker has scored four goals and created six assists in league matches, making him the third leading goal scorer for his club thus far. Red Bull Salzburg has taken the Austrian Bundesliga by storm, winning all of its seven matches and positioning themselves as the team to beat in its league.

Before the last international break, HHC scored in three consecutive matches in wins against St. Polten, Admira Wacker, and WSG Tirol. Now, his club look to threaten in European competition, pitted up against Liverpool, Napoli, and Genk in Group E of the UEFA Champions League. Under a modified crest and club name “FC Salzburg”, HHC will be looking to make his mark in his club’s first stint in the UCL group stage in 35 years. The New York Times released an intriguing article about Salzburg’s Champions League dream today, which you can check out here.

As far as HHC himself is concerned, the 23-year-old already boasts some quality experience in European competition. In the 2016-17 season, he scored twice in three group stage matches before Salzburg finished third in a group that also included Schalke, Krasnodar, and Nice. The following season would come with a more positive outcome, with HHC appearing ten times throughout Salzburg’s road to the UEL semi-finals. He would score on three separate occasions, including once against Lazio in the second leg of the tournament quarter-finals. 

Add his group stage experience with all of the qualification matches that he’s had to play for both of UEFA’s club competitions, and you get a well-seasoned European vet in HHC. 

Red Bull Salzburg plays against Belgian club Genk at home today for its first-ever UEFA Champions League group stage match (3 PM ET, 4 AM KST, 9 PM Local Time). Salzburg also faces second-place LASK this Sunday, which may prove consequential for their position as Austrian league frontrunners. Both matches are sure to be a pleasure to watch. 

Son Shines Again Against Crystal Palace

It looks like Borussia Dortmund has an English counterpart when it comes to falling hard under the attacking prowess of Son Heung-min. In eight Premier League matches against the Eagles, SHM has scored a total of five times, including twice on separate matches that went 1-nil in favor of Spurs. This includes last Saturday when the 26-year-old would score twice in Tottenham’s 4-nil rout against Crystal Palace, helping to lead his club to nine straight Premier League wins against the South Londoners.

In the tenth minute, SHM would take advantage of an early defensive miscue by Crystal Palace defender Mamadou Sakho, moving inside him to drag one past the keeper on the near post. He would later go on to score again in the 23rd minute, a mere two minutes after Serge Aurier’s deflected shot off Patrick van Aanholt doubled the Tottenham lead.

Aurier would find himself on the offensive prowl once more, delivering a beautiful cross that would meet Sonny for a skillful volley into the right corner of Palace’s net. Erik Lamela would later cap off Tottenham’s scintillating first-half performance through a beautiful team goal, set up through wonderful passes from SHM and Harry Kane respectively. 

Overall, SHM meshed quite well with Kane, partnering with him at the front of Mauricio Pochettino’s 4-2-2-2 setup. SHM, in particular, found plenty of offensive freedom that he otherwise wouldn’t have received had he been slotted in Tottenham’s more conventional 4-2-3-1. He was able to use his pace to quickly speed past Crystal Palace defenders and get open for attacking opportunities, as noted through Aurier’s assist.

Tottenham currently sits third in the Premier League table under Liverpool and Man City. They share the same amount of points as the rest of the Top Six, but a goal differential of five keeps Spurs ahead in the eight-point peloton. SHM seems to have found his stride at the same time as his club, and it could be enough to bring the white part of North London back into title contention.

It is likely that SHM will be rested or used as a late-match substitute for Spurs’ UCL faceoff at Olympiakos this Wednesday. However, he is expected to start in Spurs’ next domestic match at Leicester City this Saturday (7:30 AM ET, 12:30 AM local time, 8:30 PM KST). Let’s see if he can get a hot streak going then. 


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