Midweek Roundup: Son – “They’re Saying I’m On Fire” + Jeonbuk clobbers Seoul

Midweek Roundup time! And what a midweek roundup we have for you. Tuesday – the main event – Son and Spurs took on CSKA Moscow to great success. As you’ve seen on our home page, Son’s brilliantly timed run and slick finish gave Spurs all three points to revive their UEFA Champions League campaign. Analysis from StatsZone, pass maps, and Tavern readers and writers – past and present – we’ll explain below – on just how good Son is right now. On the B Side of the disc, AFC Champions League, where Jeonbuk annihilated FC Seoul 4-1 in the first leg – and a certain Wookie may or may not have had one beauty of a game. All this and more – including Swansea news & KFA musings in this week’s midweek roundup.

“They’re saying I’m on fire”: A (Very) Brief Statistical Look at Son’s Success


What a motherf*cking exciting time to be a supporter of Korean football. After arguably the lowest point of his career – failing to find the net against Honduras U23 in the Rio Olympics – Son Heungmin seems to have hit the highest point of his career … this unbelievable form. Skimmilk from Korean Footballers Abroad agrees:

This may be the best form Son has ever been on.  Not just the scoring which has been impressive but also his mentally fluid play and consistent aggression.  Not that he made the perfect decision every time, but you can see him play without overthinking… better to be wrong and aggressive rather than right but lose your chance completely as defenders recover.

-skimmilk, koreanfootballers.blogspot.com

So you’ll probably have seen the goal by now (we’re going to bring you some of this kind of breaking news media content straight on our home page from now on, no clickbait or patience required) on our homepage, but for completeness’ sake, this is a good place to start:

What’s simply sublime about this goal is his off-the-ball movement. He sees the opportunity for a deep throughball before Lamela has even take the ball, and he makes his run then. I’m not entirely sure he was expected Lamela to receive the pass, but Son recalibrates and perfectly times his run.

But let’s take a quick trip back in time to 2014, when Tavern contributor Jae Chee said this in his quite popular “Son Heung-min: Winger or Forward?” post:

Son, for all of his talent, always seems a bit too reactive. It seems like he will wait for the ball to come to him, and then he’ll start. As a winger that’s workable, but as a lone center forward it’s really not. It makes it too easy for defenders to mark the striker, it ends any flowing attacking moves, and just slows the play down.


Son’s lack of movement off the ball would likely cause some problems and frustrations in the attacking moves. BUT, Son has the raw tools to be center forward in the future should he develop more in a few key areas, mainly his ability to move off the ball and take up better attacking positions.

-Jae Chee for the Tavern (2014)

I’ll let you watch this superb ball-touch video before I make my musing.

So that was a good visual representation of Son’s play of late – aggressive but not brash, audacious but not irrational, looking to create and succeeding often enough. This is in contrast to Son’s play in 2014, as Jae described eloquently then. Like skimmilk mentioned, what we’re witnessing right now is a truly special evolution of Son – a Son that is confident. Too often Korean players have contented themselves with a lateral pass and haven’t looked forwards. Yet when players such as Son and Ki hit streaks of form and confidence, their contributions are no longer just ones where they seek safety – rather, they seek to be audacious and create and control something.

So just how good was Son, analytically?

Exhibit A:


This pass-map from my new favorite Twitter account, 11tegen11, shows just how influential Son is in the team – how often his teammates are seeking his influence and how often he’s contributing to the team by passing as well. Notice his average position – it’s fairly central and high up the pitch – and this despite often lurking around the wings. But it’s not like he’s just chillin’, waiting for the killer pass to finish – he’s getting a whole lot of touches as well, as indicated by the size of his circle marker. Conclusion: Son’s getting lots of the ball in dangerous, central positions as he cuts in from wide areas.

Exhibit B:


Son Heungmin scored in both of these games – on the left you see his dashboard against CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, and on the right you see his dashboard against Southampton in the second-to-last game of the 2015/16 Premier League season. Although his quantitative contribution in both games was the same – 1 goal – the quality of his play and his influence on proceedings are far, far different. Notice particularly the gray arrows – those are blocked shots. Son attempts far more of them, speaking to his confidence and willingness to just take an effort instead of looking for the perfect chance. Conclusion: Substantive improvement and cohesion in the team.

Exhibit C:

This shows player influence. The larger the player’s name, the larger the influence. Of course, don’t let yourself be tricked by the fact that “Son Heung-Min” is simply a longer name than “Dele”… it’s the size and thickness that matters here (grow up). What is interesting is how Son plays the entirety of the first half out on the left side, his usual flank of late – but Pochettino, visibly realizing that Son is an incendiary, havoc-wreaking asset – tests him out on the right, probably looking to exploit a weakness in the Moscow backline. When that didn’t
yield the goal, he took off center forward Vincent Janssen and moved Son up top as the striker, where he got his goal. Now, we discussed whether or not Pochettino would start Son up top in this game, after the manager let it slide subtly that this was among his permutations. It’s funny how things work out in the end.

One of our Tavern commenters beat me to the gun on making that point, so we’ll credit his very astute observation here:

Tottenham plays with a false 9 when Kane is in the game- he moves wide/tracks back and opens up space for his teamates. Jansen is a true 9 – he holds up the ball well and picks out runners, but it clogs up the middle. Sonny can’t do that, but he can play a false 9 well enough.

And when Pochettino moved son to the 9, it worked. The middle opened up – Alderweireld to Lamela to Son!

-Tavern reader “coolinjector”

Well put indeed.

All this leads me to question simply this: is this the time for Son to move into center-forward? Would playing as a Kane-esque false 9 center forward ultimately benefit him as a player? Would he be effective at playing that role for the Korean national team – and conversely, does the Korean national team need him at that role? Of course, all this is assuming that his hot streak of form isn’t a outlier. But the answers to those questions I will leave for you Tavern readers to discuss in the comment section below.

So before we transition away from the stats stuff, just a final look at his numbers in this game:

Son Heungmin,
Shots, 7
Shot on target, 1
Blocked shots, 5
Shots within penalty box, 2
Shots outside of penalty box, 5
Right footed shot, 3
Left footed shot, 4
Passes, 43/49
Completion rate, 87.8%
Attacking third passes, 22/28
Middle third passes, 19/19
Chances created, 4
Forward passes, 11/15
Take-ons, 3/4
Tackles, 1

Now THAT’s one hell of a shift. Pochettino said it best:

Jeonbuk 4:1 FC Seoul — Green Machine destined for ACL final
It was just the first leg, but after that kind of performance you wonder why either side would even bother playing a second. Jeonbuk claimed their fourth victory against FC Seoul this season with a dominant 4:1 win at home in the First Leg of the Asian Champions League Semi-Final.

Takeaway 1: Hwang Sunhong loses again
Hwang Sunhong, unfortunately, cannot deny getting his tactics wrong again. Looking to counter the effective, pitch-narrowing team pressing of Jeonbuk – which worked so effectively against Shanghai SIPG in the Quarter-Final – the Seoul boss practiced lining his team up in a 3-5-2 for the last several weeks. This was despite Hwang’s initial shift away from a 3/5-back after taking over mid-season from Choi Yongsoo.

The idea? Let Jeonbuk players be vacuumed into over-pressing Seoul in one wide area of the pitch, then quickly hit a diagonal ball to switch the flank and launch a speedy attack down the other flank, where the wingback would look for Dejan and Adriano to do their thing.

The idea made sense, except that I feel that teams have shown Jeonbuk too little respect this season. Yes, that sounds absurd, especially given the fact that Hwang consecrated several league games on trying out the back 3 experiment (I won’t be surprised if he reverts to 4-4-2 on Sunday in the K League). However, we’ve literally seen no major team in a crunch match shift their tactics with the sole and unique purpose of trying to stifle Jeonbuk and hold them to a draw.

By asking the wingbacks to play such a crucial role in attack, Hwang obviously favored speed over physicality and defensive astuteness. Consequence? Wide midfielders Leo and Lopes had a field day, both scoring one goal from open play and combining on the 3rd goal, where Leo had a free header while his wingback marker – Ko Yohan – who was running back from an up-field rampage – struggled to get himself between the ball and his man.

Secondly, the inexplicable decision of Hwang to utilize not one, but two creative central midfielders (Lee Seokhyun and Joo Sejong), while leaving defensive midfield options such as Yojiro Takahagi and Park Yongwoo on the bench, meant that Seoul were badly equipped to deal with Jeonbuk one-two central midfield knockout punch of Lee Jaesung and Kim Bokyung (both recently called up to the Korean national team).

Takeaway 2: Wookie’s return?
On top of those troubles for FC Seoul, Kim Shinwook had one hell of a game. Winning most aerial challenges, yes, but Jeonbuk’s style with Wookie isn’t solely loof-it-up-and-cross-your-fingers. As Roy Ghim, the Old Tavern Owner, put it: “I was surprised to see Kim Shinwook do something with his feet!” Indeed, he won the first penalty – with his feet – and scored the fourth goal – with his feet – outrunning a player.


That, combined with the obligatory header flick-on in the second goal, made this game quite possibly Kim Shinwook’s best performance of the season. And it couldn’t come at a more timely moment, as like it or not, we’ll be seeing him in Taeguk Warriors red in the coming weeks.

Takeaway 3: Jeonbuk all but officially through
Seoul did get a fortunate away goal right at the beginning of the second half, but they would need to win 3-0 in three weeks’ time to win the Semi-Final. The odds of Jeonbuk NOT scoring are very low in any case, which blunts the away goal “advantage” Seoul may have. In other words – it’s over. Jeonbuk will be the East Asian representative in the AFC Champions League final.

And honestly, they will probably win it all. Their likely opponent – UAE powerhouse Al-Ain – is not to be underestimated by any means. Their answer to Kim Bokyung and Lee Jaesung is Omar Abdulrahman (the afro-wielding UAE genius) and Lee Myeongjoo. But consider this – Jeonbuk’s TWO LOSSES this entire season have been away against a Vietnamese side and at home in the KFA Cup against Bucheon. In games where they have not grossly underestimated the opponent – in games for which they have played their best – they win. Not to mention how Jeonbuk are just getting better.

It quite literally might take a Real Madrid in the FIFA Club World Cup to stop this Jeonbuk side. The Green Machine is simply unstoppable.

Spain update

I think some of this Lee Seungwoo stuff deserves its own update post, but Lee did this in UEFA Youth League play today:

Meanwhile, an interview to confirm that obscure KPA Kim Youngkyu – “Kiu” – is still well and alive in Spain:

Extra Time

We’re running out of time on this post, and I’m losing a minute of precious sleep every minute longer I type, so I leave you with two final thoughts.

  1. Rumours continue to swirl at Liberty Stadium about the future of Swansea boss Francesco Guidolin. The Mirror reports that he could be the “first managerial casualty of the season”, whilst former United States coach Bob Bradley, United legend Ryan Giggs and current Wales boss Chris Coleman are all being touted as possible replacements. The Swans are 1-1-4 this season — we’ll keep you informed about the situation here as well as what it means for Ki Sungyueng in the coming days.
  2. How incompetent is the KFA?! In November, after the all-important Uzbekistan World Cup Qualifier, it appeared that the KFA had Russia lined-up as a possible opponent. However, this deal fell through, and instead it seems that the bosses of Korean football are preparing to approach A K LEAGUE CLUB to be the national team’s sparring partners. Guess who? Jeonbuk are understandably the current favorites.
  3. Whether or not you think that’s a good idea, you can’t deny that this is yet another example of the KFA’s unprofessional, incompetent demeanor that has consistently stagnated growth and failed to craft real solutions to Korean footballing problems. It is an association content to ride the coat-tails of 2002 and wear rose-tinted glasses everywhere they go – an association unable to find another fucking country to play a football game with. Seriously, guys. You suck.

On that cheerful(?) note, I bid you a very happy Thursday – thanks for reading and jalgayo from Tavern Studio Quebec!

Extra extra time: KNT news – Lee Yong is out of the roster due to a sports hernia injury – FC Seoul fullback Ko Kwangmin is in.

About Tim Lee 321 Articles
The maple syrup guzzling kimchijjigae craving Korean-Canadian, eh?


  1. Maybe SHM had to learn how to play a false nine?

    I’m not sure if Leverkusen used it (probably not since Kessling is a big target striker). Hamburg parked the bus and Son played counter attack striker, so he didn’t learn false nine while there.

    Anyway, maybe he’s had to learn the system. Maybe he just needed time to build chemistry with the other mids.

    I wonder what Harry Kane is thinking.

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