Tottenham surely has no reason to stress about Son Heung-min at this point in the season. Right?
He’s struggled to find the back of the net so far, a surprising note for last year’s Golden Boot winner and the player who also tallied 17 goals the year before that. While Antonio Conte insists he has no concerns about the star forward’s play, it might be wise to take a closer look at his form.
At first glance, he passes the eye test. Son looks like the same player fans have enjoyed over the past few seasons, as he makes his runs and threatens keepers. His finishing has been off just enough as with a near-miss over the crossbar and an awkward sequence near the keeper this weekend, but it seems more like a matter of fine-tuning than of deeper problems.
Statistically, he looks okay. Both his expected goals and expected assists are down a little from 21/22, but that only makes sense when compared to a career year. Both xG and xA align with his other seasons, suggesting that he’s contributing nearly as much as he has been, just without the same results. Maybe we wouldn’t be running through these thoughts if that one shot was two feet lower.
On closer look, though, a couple of changes to his game do appear. First, Son dribbles less this season. He’s been getting fewer touches, which limits his opportunities, but he hasn’t been as ambitious with the ball as in the past. Despite the team’s success, Spurs have looked a little stagnant at times, and releasing Son to play with more freedom on the ball might be a way to find more spark. (If Richarlison feels free to juggle on the field, Son can probably work a stepover here or there.)
Second, he isn’t getting into the half-space as high up the field as he used to. We might not have enough evidence with only four games, but it looks like Son is keeping a little wider and deeper than he needs to be to stay effective. Reguillon, despite some inconsistency, provided lengthy outside support last season. Both Perisic and Sessegnon work, but Perisic will drift inside, too, perhaps changing the structure of the left side of the attack. Spurs would benefit from using their wingbacks to keep the width and letting Son cut in, sometimes on the dribble, looking to create from the half-space in the final third and in.
Kane’s first goal was a beautiful example of the benefits of a winger cutting in. The sequence started with Kulusevski turning toward the middle, swapping places with Kane and setting him up for the goal.
One of the advantages of Conte’s 3-4-3 is the outside support given to the wingers but hard-working wingbacks. Son (like most wingers) benefits from the chance to turn inside a little earlier, and with Perisic’s quality behind him, the Spurs have the setup to spring him to another wonderful season.
At this point, we don’t have reason to doubt that Son won’t continue to be one of the best forwards in all football, regardless of what one particular stat category looks like. Still, a little tweak couldn’t hurt.