SON VS GREALISH: WHO’S HAD THE BETTER SEASON?
MAHADEVAN SANKAR|1st March 2021
– Maximus Decimus Meridius
In this piece, we focus on 2 of the biggest entertainers in the league – ‘Super Jack’ Jack Grealish and ‘Sonaldo’ Son Heung-min. To say that these 2 players are not entertaining would be a spit in the face of the belligerent Maximus who made the saying relevant. That’s a Gladiator reference for those left scratching their heads.
Moving on, the reason why we are matching up these 2 attackers is because they are extremely unique in the way they approach the game and in the way they impact their respective sides. Here’s a tactical lowdown on two of the league’s crème de la crème.
Without further ado, let’s get into the action.
A brief look at his stats in the Premier League
Shot creating actions per 90 – 5.4
Progressive carries p90 – 11.41
The way Jack Grealish has exploded onto the scene after taking his time after the initial hype, one wouldn’t be exaggerating when they say he is among the world’s best creators. Super Jack has unlocked his Super Saiyan mode and found a different level altogether with his performances this season. It was mighty impressive how he saved Villa from relegation last year, essentially being a one-man creation machine, driving them forward, eventually helping them survive the drop. However in the current campaign, Birmingham’s finest has transformed, from being an excellent talent to a thoroughbred gamechanger.
One would think that he would have joined a bigger club had the pandemic not set in but the England international is Villa through and through and decided to put pen to paper at his boyhood club till 2023. Villa in turn sought to build their team around Jack as the foundation in the summer and rightfully so.
The summer arrivals of Bertrand Traore, Matty Cash, Ollie Watkins, Emi Martinez and the fit-again John McGinn have certainly proved to be a dynamic supporting cast around the Aston Villa captain on their quest for the European places this season.
How Grealish has gone from gifted to undeniable
Grealish has mostly started from his preferred left-sided spot out wide in Aston Villa’s dynamic 4-2-3-1 shape alongside Barkley, Watkins and Traore. He regularly creates havoc in the half-space, taking on defenders with his supreme dribbling ability or unlocking set defences using smart through balls for Watkins and the overlapping Targett. The major improvement this season from Grealish has to be his improved decision making which, considering how much movement there is around him, whether be it from midfield, on the flank or in front of him has given him multiple passing options to pass to. Hence, only an elite creator knows when to do what and how.
This has made his pass selection much more efficient in dangerous areas. Allied to his supreme ball retention skills, he has been virtually impossible to stop. Legally. His 5.4 SCA/90 (shot creating actions) and 3.5 KP/90 (Key passes) put him in the top 1% in Europe for chance creation.
The only one who comes close is Leo Messi. Obviously.
Grealish is the type of player who loves combine with his teammates. The fluidity in the Villa setup, gives him various tactical options to progress the play, be it via quick combination 1-2s or inviting the pressure and then calmly switching play to find the free man. The 25-year old’s increased leadership status this season has also been a crucial factor in his unreal levels of output and development as a whole.
Villa are committed to their star man and have a system which gives him the freedom to be at his best. Grealish will be a pivotal player for England in the upcoming European championships. It wouldn’t be amiss to say he is the Neymar of the Premier League. With the depth of options at Gareth Southgate’s disposal, it will be criminal to omit Grealish from the team, especially considering his performances this year.
A brief look at his stats in the Premier League
Non Penalty Goals/90-0.53
Key passes/90- 2
Shot on target% – 55.6%
On the other end of the spectrum, we have goalscorer extraordinaire, Son Heung-min. Whenever we talk about Son, his finishing invariably comes up. Why shouldn’t it? Considering he has been Europe’s deadliest finishers for the last 5 years.
The South Korean is a statistical outlier in terms of his finishing efficiency. This aspect of his has been the core focus for Jose Mourinho in setting up his offensive plan this season. Kane and Son have been the Batman and Robin of the Premier League this year. We’re witnessing a duo that is not just the standout pair this season but will inevitably be classed as the greatest ever. Imagining the state of Tottenham without two of arguably the league’s best attackers is not a pretty sight.
82% – Spurs have scored 39 Premier League goals this season, with 32 of them featuring either Harry Kane or Son Heung-min as the scorer or assister (82%). Pathway. pic.twitter.com/UQiPkKIzpF
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 28, 2021
While Spurs were strutting their stuff earlier in the season, teams have now more or less found out Mourinho’s men tactically. Coupled with the fact that there is a focused attempt by the Portuguese to shore up his defence at every available opportunity which in turn has led to the attack falling off a cliff in recent games.
Yes, I saw how Spurs dominated Burnley but that’s one game.
Despite all of this, Son has been in the upper echelons of the league in terms of goal output. Considering the way the Lilywhites set up, the attackers more or less find themselves in counter-attacking scenarios. Spurs are a devastating team on the counter, Mourinho being one of the finest architects of this transition attack for more than a decade. He has literally tried to recreate his title-winning Madrid side in terms of counter attacking efficiency. Due to the fact that he doesn’t have the same quality of players at Spurs, his job has been in increasing scrutiny with regards to his failure to adapt his methods to the players at his disposal.
In the South Korean ace, Spurs have the deadliest finisher in Europe. They will need to show more ambition in the way they go forward, else the sharks will come swimming around the club to get a hold of Son.
Why Son ticks all boxes
The word that is most often associated with Son Heung-min is ‘direct’. Son is renowned for his razor-sharp focus, especially in transition. His instincts perk up more sharply than anyone else during this phase.
The South Korean invariably drags his markers away from their intended zone using his world-class off-the-ball movement. Combine this with his finishing from short and from distance that would put most No. 9’s to shame and you realise why it would be a foolish decision to give him the space to shoot. Arsenal, I am looking at you.
His dribbling, albeit not elite when compared to the likes of Grealish, Adama and Raphinha is still undeniably top drawer. Son has an explosive first step and acceleration to beat his defender. His nimble feet allow him to have a couple of step overs and feints in his locker that help him generate space for his next attacking action.
Very rarely do we see a player who is as adept on his weaker foot as he is on his natural foot. Son is unique in that aspect as he can find various angles to finish, without compromising on his shot power. His ball striking on his weaker left foot is a very underrated aspect of his game. The Asian Games gold medalist has a trademark stepover and left-footed strike in his arsenal, very reminiscent of a certain Cristiano Ronaldo at Old Trafford.
This patented move has been used to score some very fine goals, be it his goal against Leicester in 2018 or the one against Mexico in the same year. It is this two footedness that make him a very dangerous finisher. Unlike other forwards, Son’s weak foot is special and opens up multiple angles for him to shoot and spells danger for any back 5 on the planet.
Truth be told, it is a daunting prospect to try to choose one or the other. Both Son and Grealish are world-class players with their own signature styles. As a result, choosing one or the other is more of a matter of personal preference rather than anything else. But you’d pay top dollar to see them live in the flesh.
Personally, I would pick Jack Grealish over Son Heung-min by the closest of margins. If I had my way, I would have both of them on the same team, something Daniel Levy surely regrets in hindsight. The reason why I do select Jack is purely the completeness in his game. There is no notable weakness in his game. In the case of Son, he is purely a better goalscorer but not as rounded as Grealish from a creative standpoint.
While this is a purely personal take, readers will have definitely have a different opinion on both of them. What really matters at the end of the day is the respect we give to 2 of the Premier League’s foremost entertainers. Their class will never be in doubt.
CREDITS: Analysis visuals from EPL Analysis and Coaches Voice, Data from Fbref, Statsbomb