Tottenham have reached the international break unbeaten in the league and look an utterly different side to the one that limped through the last few months of the previous campaign.
However, until their visit to Turf Moor, it was the attack that just did not seem to be clicking. Richarlison has been hopelessly out of form and, despite their industry, Son and Kulusevski were not having the sort of impact they are certainly capable of.
We have seen that Ange Postecoglou is not afraid to make a big call, and on Saturday he arguably made his biggest one yet by moving Son into the middle, moving Solomon to the left and dropping the Brazilian to the bench.
The results speak for themselves. Three goals for Son, two of which were assisted by Solomon. Vindication.
Son Through the Middle
Those of you who read my work will know that I am more than happy to be hoisted by my own petard. If I am wrong, I own it. So, I have to admit, I was not the biggest fan of the idea of Son through the middle.
Why? To my mind, he could certainly play the role, but what elements of his game would we lose in the process? Where would be the glorious long-range efforts? Would it be worth it?
However, there were two things I neglected to account for in this assumption. Firstly, that we are now a team that actually plays with attacking patterns of play – as opposed to the less nuanced approach of: ‘You’re brilliant, make something happen’. Secondly, that Son is the ultimate team player and will play any role if it benefits the ‘greater good’.
In terms of his attributes for the role there is no need to ‘over-egg the pudding’ – his movement is razor sharp, his positioning is intelligent and, when brimming with confidence, his finishing is lethal. Not something we have seen up front for Tottenham in the first few matches.
Now with Son hopefully permanently through the middle, we are beginning to see the evolution of the front three to something a bit more ‘Ange-like’. But what does that actually look like?
Celtic Last Season
Elite football managers are continually changing and evolving based on their club, players and league they are playing in. Therefore, it is somewhat presumptuous to look back at Postecoglou’s Celtic side and try and apply that template to the current Tottenham squad.
However, now with Son in the middle, new opportunities are now available and I would expect Spurs to start playing more like Celtic did in attack. To understand that better, it is key to look at their focal point – Kyogo Furuhashi.
In all competitions last season, Kyogo netted 34 times (27 league and 7 domestic cup)(Wikipedia). If you watch his goals (YouTube), it is very clear the patterns of play that are being coached and implemented.
Twenty-two of his goals come directly from crosses. These came in three main forms:
- The wide cross played/ drilled along the ground.
- The square ball played from inside the box.
- The cut back from the by-line.
All goals bar one, come from inside the box. All of these crosses were delivered in an ‘orthodox’ fashion – The cross delivered from the right was struck with the right foot.
At Tottenham, the wide players have been typically inverting, with Son and Kulusevski coming more in field rather than staying wide and driving forward.
However, on Saturday you could see with Solomon on the left – especially in relation to Son’s second goal – it was very reminiscent of Celtic’s patterns of play.
It is also worth noting that in the league last season, Kyogo had on average 2.4 shots a game (Sofascore), thus his conversion rate was exceptionally high.
Indeed, he was barely involved in any of the build-up play, averaging 13.3 touched a game (although regularly he did not see much more than an hour’s play).
This is not to say that Son will play in the exact same way that Kyogo did. With all due respect to the Japanese international, Son is a far better player and therefore Ange will have to work out how to get the maximum out of his South Korean superstar. How will this shift impact the other players at Tottenham?
If the Burnley game is anything to go by, the assumption would be that Brennan Johnson would be deployed in his usual right-wing position. There, he will use his blistering pace and direct running to drive into space and look to provide crosses and cutbacks into the box, in the guise of an orthodox winger.
If you look at how Johnson operated in the Championship for Forest, you can see exactly how Spurs will want him to play, and, in a team with more possession and who play higher up the pitch, he will be looking to replicate those performances (YouTube).
Where does this leave the other forwards?
The biggest question therefore will now be surrounding Dejan Kulusevski. Since his arrival at Tottenham, he has operated from the right, cutting in to deliver quality balls with his left foot (Sofascore). He also has the capacity to feint and go down the line.
There is the option to try Deki on the left, even though he has not really played there before. Although he does not have the explosive pace of Johnson, he would be able to use his trickery and strength to manoeuvre room for himself and deliver balls into the box.
However, he has also admitted that he would be more than happy to play in a number 10 role (Spurs Web). He is an extremely intelligent footballer, who makes up for his lack of pace with movement and guile. Therefore, Postecoglou may consider playing the Swede in the ‘Maddison role’ if he is injured or needs resting.
The man who came into the frontline against Burnley was Manor Solomon and the Israeli is probably the biggest beneficiary of this tactical development. He is naturally two-footed and comfortable operating on the left, the position vacated by Son.
Against Burnley, he showed his ability to work in tandem with Son; providing two assists for the South Korean and combined with some of his performances during pre-season, it looks like he may be adding to his game time significantly in the coming months.
Which leaves Richarlison. It is fair to say I am not his biggest fan, but I did think he could do a passable job in the absence of Kane.
However, Saturday showed the gulf in class between Richarlison and Son. Not only was he not scoring, he was not looking like scoring and was not quick enough to get into dangerous positions.
At present he will still be back up for Son, however, is there an alternative? Previously, I have written that he was at his best when he was at Everton driving forward down the left. Now, with Son in the middle, this could be an option.
Tottenham are now in a position where there forward line should begin to fire on all cylinders. Yet, my concern is that we are still a player short in the central position.
Assuming he recovers fitness soon, Bryan Gil could offer cover on either flank. At Tottenham, he has usually played on the right, however, at Sevilla he operated predominantly from the left (Sofascore).
Hopefully, Son will stay fit until the transfer window opens and another forward can be acquired.
So here is my bold prediction. If he manages to stay fit and continues to play central, there is no reason why, by January 1st 2024, Son will have at least 13 league goals. The evolution of Sonny is underway.
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