Tottenham Hotspur have started the season brilliantly but the ever-reliable and consistent performer Son Heung-min has struggled to find his pace so far.
Son won the Premier League Golden Boot last season with 23 goals, including a flurry of 12 in the last 10 games of the season, to level with Liverpool’s Mo Salah at the top of the charts.
In the last six seasons, Son has never failed to hit double figures in the Premier League, with 89 goals in that span. Prior to this season he had averaged a goal every 173.9 minutes since moving to England.
Fast forward to today and the South Korea international has started in all eight of Spurs’ games so far this season but has yet to find the back of the net, which is becoming a concern given his prolific form since arriving in north London.
Perhaps more worryingly, he’s also only racked up one assist so far, proving he’s not that effective in all attacking areas.
The question is why is the striker fighting? That might be harder to answer than you’d expect given that he’s currently averaging 3.13 shots per ninety minutes, up from last season’s 2.57 average.
It could be a lower quality of shots on target as his ‘expected goals’ total – xG – has dropped to 0.11 from 0.19 last season despite putting more effort on goal.
Son was also substituted in Spurs’ first loss of the season to Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League without firing a single shot.
Of course, the finger is pointed at Son, but in fact the whole Spurs attack isn’t firing on all cylinders, which is somewhat surprising given they’re unbeaten in the Premier League.
Harry Kane is an exception as he has scored five goals in all competitions. Apart from that, Richarlison has two goals and Dejan Kulusevski only one.
Spurs boss Antonio Conte not only needs to figure out why Son is struggling, but also need to score his entire attack more freely to maintain his position among the top teams this season.
Ahead of the first loss of the season, Conte made it clear that no one in his squad is untouchable when it comes to selection.
Conte said: “I think if you’re trying to build something important, if you’re trying to build something with ambition and trying to be competitive and fighting to win, you have to change old habits, otherwise it means you’re in balance want to stay and it means you don’t want to have ambition.
“For that reason, all players have to accept the rotation, especially up front, we have four players. For me in particular it’s very difficult to drop one of these four players, but I have to make the best decision for the team and for the players.
“Sometimes it’s better to rest and not start a game, come in and just play 20 or 30 minutes and then play the following games.
“Of course I’m here to try to change the old habit. The old habit was that players were used to playing in every game. What happened in this type of situation is that you don’t have much of a chance of winning.
“You try to keep the players happy but big clubs have a big squad, a deep squad. We don’t have a big squad at the moment, but we’ve only just started down this path.
“Because of that, what happens to any of those four players will be normal and you have to know that for a manager like me it’s good to have those options.”
The stats we’ve already looked at suggest that Son is still creating and creating chances, but it seems he doesn’t get into the penalty area as often to create better chances.
The striker’s heatmap so far this season shows just that, less time in the box and less time across the field so far.
Son’s energy and pace is perhaps a key reason he’s been so successful since joining Spurs from Bayer Leverkusen in 2015 for £22million.
Although he may have been held out on the left and didn’t get into the penalty area as often, his stats in the first six games don’t differ too drastically from last season – apart from goals, of course.
Son played 520 minutes in his first six games last season as opposed to his 493 minutes this season. The main differences are that he had three goals and of course his goal conversion was much higher.
The forward has had the same number of assists and actually made more shots during that time, 15 this season compared to 10 last season.