Tottenham Hotspur have started the season brightly, but the always reliable and consistent performer Son Heung-min has struggled to find his stride as of yet.
Son won the Premier League’s Golden Boot last season with 23 goals, including a flurry of 12 in the last 10 games of the season to pull level with Liverpool’s Mo Salah at the top of the charts.
In the last six campaigns, Son has never failed to score double figures in the Premier League, with 89 goals during this period. Before this season, he had averaged a goal every 173.9 minutes since moving to England.
Tottenham forward Son Heung-min has failed to score a single goal in the first eight games
Son won the Premier League Golden Boot last season with 23 goals to share the prize with Mohamed Salah
Fast forward to today and the South Korean international has started in all eight of Spurs’ matches so far this season, but is yet to find the back of the net, which is beginning to get worrying given his prolific form ever since arriving in north London.
Perhaps even more of a concern is that he has also only picked up one assist so far, proving that he is not as effective in all areas of attack.
The question is, why is the forward struggling? That could be harder to answer than you’d expect, given he is currently averaging 3.13 shots per ninety minutes, higher than last season’s average of 2.57.
The South Korean international failed to take a single shot in their defeat to Sporting Lisbon
It could be a lower quality of shots on goal with his ‘expected goals’ total – xG- dropping down to 0.11 from last season’s 0.19 – despite having more efforts on goal.
Son was also substituted in Spurs’ first defeat of the season against Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League without taking a single shot.
Fingers are of course being pointed at Son, but in fact the entire Spurs attack is not firing on all cylinders, which is somewhat surprising given that they remain unbeaten in the Premier League so far.
Harry Kane is an exception having scored five times in all competitions. Other than that Richarlison has two goals and Dejan Kulusevski has just one to his name.
Spurs boss Antonio Conte doesn’t just need to find out why Son is struggling, but instead get his whole attack scoring more freely in order to maintain their position among the top teams this term.
Ahead of their first defeat of the season, Conte made it clear that no one in his squad is untouchable when it comes to selection.
Tottenham boss Antonio Conte (pictured) made it clear that no one in his squad is untouchable
Conte said: ‘I think when you try to build something important, when you try to build something with ambition and try to be competitive and fight to win, you have to change old habits, otherwise it means you want to stay in balance and it means you don’t want to have ambition.
‘For this reason all the players have to accept the rotation especially up front, we have four players. For me especially it’s very difficult right now to drop one of these four players, but I have to make the best decision for the team, also for the players.
‘Sometimes it’s better to rest and don’t start a game, to come in and play only 20 or 30 minutes and then play the following games.
‘For sure I’m here to try to change the old habit. The old habit was that the players were used to playing in every game. What happened in this type of situation is that you don’t have great possibilities to win.
‘You try to make the players happy, but big clubs have a big squad, a deep squad. In this moment we don’t have a big squad but we have just started to try to follow this path.
‘For this reason what happens with one of these four players will be normal and you have to know it’s good for a coach like me to have these options.’
The statistics we’ve already looked at suggest that Son is still getting and creating chances, but it appears that he is failing to get inside the box as often to create better quality chances.
Forward Son’s heatmap for Tottenham for the whole of the 2021-22 Premier League season
The South Korean’s heatmap for Antonio Conte’s side so far in the current top-flight campaign
The forward’s heatmap so far this season shows exactly that, less time inside the box, and less time spread across the entire pitch so far.
Son’s energy and pace is perhaps a key reason for him being so successful since joining Spurs for £22million from Bayer Leverkusen in 2015.
Although he has perhaps been kept out to the left and not got inside the box as much, his statistics are not too drastically different to last season in the opening six fixtures – other than goals of course.
Son played 520 minutes in his first six matches last term as opposed to his 493 minutes this season. The key differences are he had three goals and of course his goal conversion was much higher.
The forward has the same amount of assists in that time and has actually had more shots, 15 this season compared to 10 last season.
Son’s statistics from 2021/22 compared to the current campaign. Graphic by: sofascore.com
Stats from the opening six matches last season compared to this campaign. Graphic courtesy of: sofascore.com
He had 172 passes in his opening six games last term compared to 129, with a slightly decreased accuracy, going from 83.7% to 80.6%.
Son has entered the penalty area 32 times already compared to 34 times last term at this stage. His touches have decreased from 288 to 239.
Despite the criticism and breakdown of his performances, Son is not worried and feels he will turn his fortunes around.
‘If I’m honest, if I wasn’t getting chances in the game I would be worried but I’m still getting chances,’ said Son. ‘In some games, there have been unlucky moments. In some games, it has been a bad finish.
The 30-year-old is not worried and backing himself to bring back his form from last season
‘In some games I’m really frustrated because if I have some massive chances and the ball doesn’t go in. It makes me just laugh. But I am not worried about it because the team and the staff and all the fans are helping me.
‘I think if I score one the confidence will be back and I hope I can go on and score more goals.’
If Tottenham are going to be successful they will be hoping for more from Son as well as his competitors in Richarlison and Kulusevski.