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Mauricio Pochettino punched the air emphatically in Moscow on Tuesday evening as Tottenham scored their winner against CSKA.
It was not so much the goal, securing a vital 3 Champions League points after the opening game defeat to Monaco, which would have brought the Argentine coach so much joy but a vindication of his managerial acumen.
So many players have progressed at White Hart Lane under Pochettino’s tutelage and the coach would have been extremely satisfied to witness the two players he has kept faith in the most linking up to score the only goal of the game at CSKA’s brand new stadium.
Spurs were ready to sell Erik Lamela at the start of last season but having persisted with the winger, he emerged as an integral member of the squad that finished third.
It was the 24 year old’s pass that released Son Heung-min to squeeze home on Tuesday night, Igor Akinfeev failing to stop the ball rolling across the line despite his touch.
Lamela was excellent against CSKA, having 80 touches and making 50 accurate passes in the final third to show just how involved he was in achieving a crucial win on a night Spurs were missing five regular first team players.
His display will aid his claim to win his domestic first-team spot back having started just 3 of Spurs’ 6 Premier League games so far.
It will be the identity of the player he assisted that will make that challenge harder however, with Heung-min continuing a superb burst of goal-scoring form that started on his return to the starting XI against Stoke and has ran through September to bring him 5 goals in as many games.
With Harry Kane eyeing up at least a month’s absence with ligament damage and his deputy Vincent Janssen still adjusting to a new league, Son’s purple patch has arrived at an important time.
It has also arrived at a surprising time with Heung-min’s future, just like Lamela’s was a year before, having been in doubt over the summer.
Spurs were reportedly ready to sell the Korean back in May with Pochettino’s ire sparked by a listless performance in the season-ending 5-1 defeat to Newcastle in which the winger was substituted at half-time.
Son did finish his first season with 2 goals in his last 4 games though it helped to distort a disappointing return on the £22 million fee it took to sign him from Bayer Leverkusen a year previous, as the Korean netted just 6 times in his first 37 games.
Persuaded to stay
Spurs rejected a £25 million bid from Wolfsburg as Heung-min was away at the Olympics and following an open discussion with his coach who had a sharp change of heart, the winger was persuaded to stay.
“Last season was tough for him and we have to make the decision, in or out,” said Pochettino, “we took the decision for him to stay with us and I’m very pleased now. He had the opportunity to play and show he can help us. We’re very pleased for him.”
Perseverance and patience
The perseverance and patience shown while Son was out in Brazil as the season started has been justified by a player that has added clinical finishing to a natural game of strength and energy in recent weeks.
Heung-min skipped his country’s World Cup 2018 qualifier against Syria in the build-up to the Stoke game to focus on his Spurs career and the winger was rewarded with his first start of the season, which he marked with 2 ruthless finishes cutting in from the wing.
Two similar goals were scored against Middlesbrough, the second an excellent curling finish from the left-flank as he persisted with the ball despite seemingly heading into a blind alley surrounded by defenders and it is that single-minded work-ethic that is now handsomely paying off.
That his first came from the right side, taking a lay-off from Janssen to beat a ruck of red shirts to curl home with a driving run and his left foot showed how unerringly comfortable he is with both feet, giving Pochettino the welcome option of fielding him on either flank.
Far more settled
Pochettino said after the game at the Riverside that the 24 year old is far more settled in England and, as he competes with Christian Eriksen, Moussa Sissoko, Lamela and Georges N’Koudou, who looked impressive in a late cameo against CSKA, for a spot either side of Dele Alli in attacking midfield, he is like a new signing at White Hart Lane.
“It is true I went to see the gaffer because I wanted to ask him to play more – I am a footballer and every player wants to play games. He was very honest with me, very truthful, and I am very grateful to him”, said the winger. “This is very special, but the season has only just started and we have to keep this up as a team and I need to keep this form personally.”
Tough test awaits
Manchester City are welcomed to north London on Sunday in what will be the toughest test yet of the credentials of Pep Guardiola’s buccaneering team, and with Heung-min leading the way, taking more shots (4.7), creating more chances (3.3) and registering more dribbles (4.7) per game than anybody else in the Spurs squad, in Kane’s absence, City will have to heed warning of Spurs’ man in form.
The Korean has already equalled last season’s domestic goal tally but thanks to his manager’s faith and his own desire to turn around his failing fortunes, one suspects there are many more to come.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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