By Connor Varnish – @cvarn4
Saturday marks perhaps the most important day in Jurgen Klopp’s tenure since he took over as Liverpool manager in October of 2015.
The Reds will join English rivals Tottenham Hotspur in Madrid in an all-English Champions League Final in what hopes to conclude with Liverpool hoisting their sixth European Cup.
Jurgen Klopp’s men boast an impressive 113 goals scored across all competitions – Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino will no doubt look to continue providing the attacking spark they’ve shown all season as they take to the pitch of Wanda Metropolitano, but it certainly won’t be an easy task as Tottenham will have some offensive firepower of their own to be dealt with as well.
Spurs are no strangers to attacking, free-flowing football and, while not quite as prolific as the Reds’ front three, the Lilywhites have an embarrassment of riches in the forward department. With players such as Harry Kane, Lucas Moura, Christian Eriksen, and Son Heung-min at Tottenham’s boss Mauricio Pochettino’s disposal, Spurs will look to strike fear into the Liverpool defence at any half-chance they can create.
Although it is believed that Harry Kane will return from an ankle injury he sustained in the quarter final against Manchester City, it’s difficult to measure or predict just how much the England captain will influence the game should he feature. Kane is a wild card for Pochettino – will he be fit enough to last a full 90 minutes? Does he lack the match sharpness to make the starting XI? Or will the two-time Golden Boot winner pop up with an all important goal?
There are plenty of questions to be answered over Tottenham’s No.10 in the coming days – could this uncertainty prove to be a benefit to the Argentine, or could it ultimately prove detrimental to his side’s hopes of lifting the clubs first ever Champions League trophy?
The uncertainty behind Kane’s fitness begs the question of who will lead Tottenham’s line on the day of the final. Lucas Moura has had a wonderful season for the London based club, and has done himself a favour skyrocketing his reputation in the last few weeks after his late heroics in Amsterdam as he netted a hat-trick to fire his side all the way to Madrid. I think, however, that Tottenham’s not-so-secret danger man will be none other than Son Heung-min.
The narrative of the Korean being underrated can be cast aside at this point. Football fans will know he should no longer be considered an unsung hero in this Tottenham side as the versatile forward simply delivers when called upon.
There’s no denying Son’s strengths: rapid with and without the ball, technically gifted with both his left and right foot, tactically aware of finding space in the final third, and perhaps most importantly, his never say die attitude. Truth be told, I’d love Son in this current Liverpool setup, as he’s got everything that Jurgen Klopp loves in a footballer, but I digress.
Son has been playing at a high level nearly all season. The Korean has bagged 20 goals and provided seven assists across all competitions this season including three crucial goals against Manchester City over two legs in this year’s Champions League run – he does not fade on the biggest occasions – and he’ll certainly be relishing this opportunity in Madrid to etch his name in Tottenham’s history.
Much like Liverpool’s forwards, Son is capable of slotting in seamlessly across an attacking line. We’ve seen him primarily playing on the left side of Tottenham’s attacking setup, but with Kane’s fitness in doubt, it would come as no surprise to see the South Korean lead the line against Liverpool.
Of his 20 goals this season, he has scored the most from the centre forward position with nine goals while adding another four from a secondary striker, or ‘false nine’ role. The remaining seven were scored from the left wing, which is of course the Korean’s most common position on the pitch in the typical Tottenham setup – it does makes you wonder, though, if Son is actually more suited to inflicting damage from the centre of the park?
Strangely enough for Spurs, they appear to somehow fare much better without one of the world’s best strikers in Harry Kane. They have won 67% of their matches without England’s captain compared to a 62% success rate with Kane on the pitch.
Just this past January when Kane suffered an ankle injury prior to the one he’s nursing now, Son stepped up to the plate in Kane’s absence and led Spurs’ front line winning five out of their next seven games while also getting his name on the score sheet in four consecutive games within that stretch.
Moreover, on the theme of Son arguably being a more instrumental player to the Lilywhites over Kane, it appears that Tottenham suffer more without the services of Son on the pitch compared to when they are without Harry Kane. Spurs win 65% of the time he is on the pitch compared to a considerably less 50% win rate when they are without the services of the talented Asian. So who really is more important to their side?
The old adage that stats don’t tell the whole story is true, in my opinion at least. Nearly every club in the world would benefit from having a fit and firing Harry Kane in their side although the stats paint a different picture. If Kane does miss out on the Champions League Final, or at least doesn’t make the starting XI, it would appear that Spurs are in pretty good shape with Son Heung-min more than capable of filling the England captain’s shoes up front.
Son has stepped up before in Kane’s absence, and will certainly be poised to do it again on the biggest of stages. Let’s hope Liverpool’s defence answers all the questions asked by the Korean and co. in Madrid.