Forget Kane, match-winner Son is now a Champions League superstar

Spurs have scarcely missed a beat when their captain has been unavailable this season and that is thanks largely to the output of the Korean star

It’s not accurate to say Son Heung-min will simply be stepping in for Harry Kane when Tottenham play their Champions League quarter-final second leg against Manchester City on Wednesday night. It would, on the contrary, be correct to say Son is a match-winner in his own right.

Spurs, after all, have the South Korea captain to thank for their slender advantage heading into the game at the Etihad, following his decisive first-leg goal. Son is not an understudy waiting in the wings until Kane is indisposed before filling in. That would be to utterly underplay his significance.

There has been a perception that the rest of the Spurs team exists to service Kane exclusively. Even Pep Guardiola, the City manager, got himself in trouble in 2017 for referring to them as “the Harry Kane team”.

That didn’t go over well with Mauricio Pochettino, or anyone else connected with Spurs for that matter, and it won’t be lost on anyone that the winning goal last week came from a different player while Kane was in the dressing room.

Kane is, indeed, Tottenham’s principal goalscorer and it’s unlikely that he’ll be outscored by anyone at the club for as long as he remains there. But this is not a one-man team.

There are plenty of goals elsewhere – to be shared around – and Spurs have scarcely missed a beat when Kane’s been unavailable to them. They have a way of playing with Kane and a way of playing without him. Both are effective.

There is even an argument to be made that Spurs have been better without Kane in the team so far in 2019.

It was a bad day all round in January when Spurs lost 1-0 at home to a resurgent Manchester United at Wembley. The loss was compounded by a wearying late ankle injury to Kane.

Harry Kane Tottenham PS

Many wondered how Spurs could survive not only the loss to a Champions League rival but also the loss of their captain. But Spurs demonstrated that they can not only survive without Kane, but thrive.

While Son was on Asian Cup duty when the victory against Fulham was secured, he was back in the team for one of the best sequence of results for Spurs this season.

There were three more Premier League wins without Kane in the team, plus a hugely impressive Champions League last 16, first-leg win against Borussia Dortmund. Son was the star that night, scoring the opening goal, and wreaking plenty more havoc besides.

It was a perfect illustration of what Spurs are about when Kane’s not around. Son played in attack alongside Lucas Moura with Christian Eriksen in behind. Neither would be described as an out-and-out striker but they have a dexterity and a variety of movement that is not available in a player of Kane’s profile.

And when Kane came back in, the team found it hard to adjust to his presence. Their fleeting hopes of a title challenge were snuffed out with only one point taken from 15 in the league following Kane's return.

In recent weeks, they have looked better but did not truly let fly again until the Kane-less 4-0 hammering of Huddersfield at the weekend.

Moura carried the plaudits, thanks to the first hat-trick scored in the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, but Son was again electric. Whether it’s providing or scoring, the Korean is Pochettino’s key asset in attack.

Son Tottenham PS

However, by the time Kane comes back – likely to be next season following his latest ankle setback – Spurs should be able to field all their attackers in tandem. Some of their most devastating displays this season have come with both Kane and Son in the line-up, including the 6-2 demolition away to Everton around Christmas.

It’s not a case of either/or. They are well capable of playing together. Moreover, Pochettino can legislate for their absences, as evidenced by the quality of their results when Son’s been on international duty and Kane injured.

You’d be hard pressed to find a Spurs fan to disagree with the assessment that Son is their player of the season this year, whether Kane’s in the team or not.

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You might get a few votes for Moussa Sissoko, who might belong more in the 'Most Improved' category. Those two have grown closer in the dressing room this season and their lockers are alongside one another.

There was widespread frustration in the summer, and again in January, that Spurs got no players in the transfer market. In the example of Sissoko, it’s clear that Pochettino has extracted improvements. He has also seen another level reached by Son.

Quite apart from being a walk-on in the Spurs story, Son is now the star attraction.