Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur host a revitalised Manchester United side on 13 January as they prepare to pile pressure on the pacesetters in Liverpool and Manchester City. After having seen off Chelsea in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final, on the back of sublime form, they will enter the game against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Red Devils, who are on a run of five wins on the bounce. However, not all the momentum will be carried over to Wembley when the English powerhouse visit Spurs, as the man with a contagious smile and loads of goals, Son Heung-min, will be playing his last game for his club for a while, due to international duty at the AFC Asian Cup.
Not for this first time this term, the versatile forward has been asked to line up for his nation, having previously won the Asian Games with South Korea. Due to the much-needed triumph, he avoided military service as well. Now, the premier footballing Asian tournament commenced on 5 January, but Son will probably only feature in South Korea’s third of three group stage clashes, against China. As part of the negotiation with the Korean FA, Spurs had struck an agreement to keep hold of their player until their high-voltage encounter against Manchester United. Therefore, he will most definitely leave after 13th January.
The Reds already upstaged Philippines in their opening fixture, courtesy of a 67th minute strike from Hwang Ui-jo. If South Korea progress to the knockout stages, which is most likely to be the case, Son will definitely miss the away fixture against Fulham. If his national side go till the quarter-final, he will not be a part of the all-important Carabao Cup second leg against Chelsea.
Should Bento’s men reach the final, the Spurs number 10 will miss three more fixtures against Crystal Palace, Watford and Newcastle.
Right now, not much can be said as it depends on South Korea’s exploits at the Asian Cup, but for sure, the in-form player will be a huge miss. The 26-year-old acknowledged the same too, saying: “Of course I feel very sorry because I miss already in September. I feel sorry for my team-mates, the fans and the coaching staff (at Spurs). It’s difficult. Sometimes you think it’s a bit sad, but it is also important for my country.”
Considering Spurs’ depth in the squad and the indication of a few tired legs in the squad, it looks like the absence of Son will come back to haunt them, especially against bitter rivals Chelsea. The player’s form is another reason why they will miss him big time, as despite having missed a good part of the season thus far, the little magician has eight goals and seven assists to his name, with seven of those eight having come in the last 7 fixtures.
Now that’s the question, do South Korea really need him? It looks as though they pipped Philippines in their 1-0 victory, but Kim Seung-gyu and co. enjoyed 82% of the ball, never looked disturbed and throughout the game. It was one-way traffic. More so, they looked like a formidable opponent, the ones to watch out for in the competition. Of course they would, when you’ve got players such as Kim Min-jae, Newcastle United man Ki Sung-yueng – who is arguably the best midfielder plying his trade in the tournament, Lee Jae-sung and their star striker Hwang Ui-jo.
Son, at the moment, is more important to Tottenham Hotspur than South Korea, as the latter are expected to sail through to the top 8, at least. He should have been given the permission to play in the London derbies against Fulham and Chelsea, but it remains to be seen how Spurs do without him.