Heung-Min Son form: What is happening to the Tottenham striker this season as he struggles to score? | Football news
After four defeats in seven, everyone at Tottenham is under close scrutiny. But no one epitomizes the team’s troubles more than the defending Premier League Golden Boot champion. Heung-Min Son is having the worst form of his career at Spurs.
He scored 23 goals in the league last season but has little hope of a repeat. Son has just three goals in 15 Premier League appearances – and all came off the bench in the second half against Leicester. What happened to the famous Korean striker?
At 30 there will be concerns that he is waning but perhaps the workload has caught up with him. Having a summer tour in South Korea and a run to fit in the World Cup saw him compete with a face mask after suffering a broken cheekbone. He played a lot of football stuff.
“This season, especially at the top, we have players,” Antonio Conte said earlier this season. “Rotation is good for the health of the team and the players.” And yet, injuries to Richarlison and Dejan Kulusevski have caused Son to try to return to his form in vain.
The only Premier League game he’s benched happens to be the only Premier League game he’s scored in – and it was a hat-trick there.
Only three strikers have started more games in the Premier League since 2016. “Every player wants to play every game but you lose physical and mental energy,” said Conte. “Sometimes you don’t understand this and think you can play but your form goes down.”
Son definitely looks below his best. In the 0-2 home defeat to Aston Villa on Sunday, he showed a lack of confidence, a lack of confidence that permeated every aspect of his game. A sloppy touch here, an overzealous pass there, nothing seemed to work out for him.
There was a great chance for Harry Kane to get past goal in the first half but instead of a precise pass to slip into his teammate, the ball flew out of his feet. Too much spin, too much loft, too much speed. Kane could only look back at him in disappointment.
Even that partnership, statistically the most successful in Premier League history, looks less fluid now. It relies on Son making moves without the ball that Kane can detect very well. Perhaps their skill sets wouldn’t match as the two men got older.
However, it’s not just the goals. The other elements don’t work as they could. Throughout his career at Tottenham, he was a ball carrier and also a goal taker. But the numbers suggest there has been decline in both areas of his game.
This is a player that ranks among the top dozen players in the Premier League in terms of chances created from open play and successful dribbles since 2016. On both metrics, he is. are currently in their lowest form in those seven seasons.
His unsuccessful dribbling can be seen as a natural evolution at 30 – it’s largely a young man’s play. But there is a theory that Son’s decline in numbers could be partly explained by a tactical change at Tottenham.
In addition to his hat-trick against Leicester, he also scored twice in a Champions League home win over Eintracht Frankfurt. Those are his only five goals for Spurs this season. The common point of both matches is that Ivan Perisic is not on the field.
Is the presence of the Croatian player not suitable for Son? The attacking left-back occupies some space that he likes to occupy. It resulted in Son having to move into crowded areas of the yard or back out as Perisic dashed forward.
This is a big change because Perisic is much more forward-thinking than the alternatives Spurs have had in that role. He has twice as many touches in the opposition box in 90 minutes as Sergio Reguilon, his predecessor in that position.
A prime example of the defeat against Villa is that Perisic has now taken the steps that Son used to do. Spurs’ best chance came from Perisic’s run before setting up Kane. The son is standing out wide. He is making fewer touches in the box than ever before.
It all paints a bleak picture but it’s not black and white. While many fundamental numbers are falling, they are not this far down. Son’s reduced output can only be partially explained by other factors. Ultimately, his poor finishing is a big cause.
“I’m fine,” Son said when discussing his form in early September. “Honestly, if I didn’t have a chance in the game, I would be worried but I still have a chance. In some games, there were moments of unluckyness. In some games, it was that. A lousy finish.”
He actually has more shots in 90 minutes than in any of the previous three seasons, although the quality of those opportunities is somewhat lower than before. The biggest difference is that Son has consistently surpassed previous expectations.
His total of 23 goals last season have come despite a predicted return of 15.8 based on the quality of those opportunities. He’s taken just 86 shots – the least of any golden boot winner in over a decade. He has successfully completed his expected goals for the sixth consecutive season.
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Now, for the first time in his Tottenham career, it is his finishing ability that has let him down. One missed opportunity, another missed. A player known to be comfortable with both feet suddenly looks insecure with both feet.
Some will blame Conte. Spurs can certainly open up more. But it was under Conte that Son won the golden shoe. A defensive approach that had never suffocated him before. Playing counter-attack suits him. Perhaps it reflects a change in his own game.
What’s certain is that everything – from his workload to tactics, from his in-game evolution to his lack of confidence in it – has combined to give us a The worst version of Son anyone can remember. Finding a way out of it will be key for him and for Spurs.