Head 2 Head: Heung-min Son or Mario Götze – who will decide Champions League last-16 tie?

The UEFA Champions League often throws up dream matches and this year was no different. The draw for the last 16 saw Manchester United paired with Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool with FC Bayern, FC Barcelona against Olympique Lyonnais and Ajax versus champions Real Madrid.

Match-ups that wouldn’t look out of place at the International Champions Cup.

However, perhaps the most intriguing tie sees Tottenham Hotspur play Borussia Dortmund.

A lot has changed for the Bundesliga side in the last 12 months. The appointment of Lucien Favre as coach saw them go back to their roots and adopt a more high-energy game fans at the Westfalstadion were accustomed to during the days of Jürgen Klopp. They have played some of the best soccer in Europe this season and currently sit top of the Bundesliga.

Spurs, on the other hand, are consistent across the board. Mauricio Pochettino knows what he wants from his players and they know what to expect from their coach. It’s a tightknit group and their togetherness has seen them force their way into what looked to be a two-horse race for the Premier League title.

With the injured Harry Kane and Dele Alli missing once again for the Londoners, Heung-min Son will be the main man for Pochettino.

For Dortmund, captain Marco Reus has rediscovered his swagger under Favre but he missed the 3-3 draw with Hoffenheim on Saturday. While all eyes will be on England international Jadon Sancho, it’s Mario Götze who has been BVB’s key player this season and is a big factor in why the forward line has been so rampant.

Here, we take a detailed look at the two potential match-winners ahead of this mouthwatering Champions League clash.

Who are they?

When Götze burst onto the scene at the end of the 2009/10 season he was tipped to be the next big thing in German soccer. The following campaign saw him take centre stage in Klopp’s rampant side.

His slaloming dribbling style drew comparisons with a certain Lionel Messi. He could manipulate the ball in ways it didn’t seem possible, bewitch defenders and mesmerise fans. In 2010, Matthias Sammer, then the German FA’s technical director, said he was “one of the best talents Germany has ever had.”

Felix Magath, a three-time Bundesliga winning coach, claimed the BVB maestro was a “once in a century talent.”

Götze was instrumental in Dortmund winning consecutive Bundesliga titles and a key cog in the side that went all the way to the 2013 Champions League final. He made his debut for Germany at 18 and was a World Cup winner at 22 after he netted the only goal in the 2014 final against Argentina.

The summer of 2013 saw him make the move to rivals FC Bayern after the Bavarian giants activated his $40million release clause. Götze reportedly pushed for the move as he wanted to play under Pep Guardiola.

Götze won three consecutive Bundesliga titles with Die Bayern but his playing time was reduced in his third year and in the summer of 2016 he returned to Borussia Dortmund.

A combination of the club being in transition coupled with being diagnosed with myopathy, a muscular disorder, meant his return was his boyhood club wasn’t as seamless as he might have hoped.

However, under Favre he’s found his groove yet again. Deployed as a false-nine, he’s been the hub for the BVB attack this season and is now as important as he was during his spell with the club.

In many ways, Son’s early life in soccer mirrors Götze’s. He was highly rated as a youngster and penned a deal with Hamburg on his 18th birthday.

Having made his debut during the 2010/11 season, scoring FC Köln to become the club’s youngest ever Bundesliga scorer, he finished the season with three goals in 13 appearances.

The South Korean netted 17 over the next two seasons, operating mainly as a wide forward, and his form convinced Bayer Leverkusen to pay $12million to secure his services in the summer of 2013.

He showed his versatility for Die Werkself, playing across the front line, and finished both seasons with the club having scored ten or more Bundesliga goals.

Tottenham Hotspur paid a reported $25million to sign the attacker in the summer of 2015 and after a 12-month bedding in process, it quickly became apparent he was one of the club’s key payers.

Son bagged 21 in all competitions during the 2016/17 campaign and he followed that up last season with 18 strikes. He’s on course to better that this season having scored 15 in 31 appearances this term. An incredible return given he spent time away at the Asian games.

He’s Pochettino’s very own Mr. Reliable.

Style of play

While their early careers may mimic one another, their playing styles are very different. Götze has always been a creator and the link to bring others into the game. You can see this when looking at Football Whispers' player persona (above).

He does it from various areas of the pitch but this season under Favre he’s been used as a false nine. There, he drifts into wide areas to allow Sancho, Marco Reus and Christian Pulisic to fill the space he’s created.

Götze is Dortmund's conductor. He still chips in with goals but he won’t purely be judged on that despite, on paper at least, leading the line for BVB.

Whereas Götze works from inside out, Son is tasked with going from wide areas into central ones. He’s one of the most prolific and productive wide forwards in the game right now. He even leads the line at times with Kane dropping into more of a playmaking role.

Son, as shown by his player persona, is an all-round forward. He seems to do everything. But, importantly, he puts the ball in the back of the net, regularly. 

He can also create chances for others, and for himself due to his dribbling ability; he's not shy about putting the ball into the penalty area from wide areas. 

Statistical comparison

They may play different roles but both influence the game all over the final third, as shown by their heat maps. Götze and Son are outperforming their xGContribution, a stat which combines expected goals and assists. The elite players always do. However, this sort of overperformance suggests both are running really hot at the minute. 

Despite Götze's tendency to float he's still averaging more touches in the penalty area while averaging 0.52 more key passes on a per-90 basis. However, Son is scoring at a better rate, 0.23 more than the German.

Both are dangerous, just in different ways. Both can be game-changers and match-winners on their day. Who will have the biggest influence on Wednesday? 

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