Seven points from a possible nine doesn’t represent a perfect start to the 2022/23 Premier League season for Tottenham Hotspur, but it has been strong enough for some to suggest Antonio Conte’s team would mount a title challenge. It’s certainly strong enough to provide a platform to improve on last season’s fourth-place finish.
Spurs started their campaign with a commanding 4-1 victory over Southampton before battling for a point against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Against Wolves, the North London side were a long way from their best, but still managed to claim another three points thanks to a second half winner by Harry Kane.
The fundamentals of Conte’s approach and system have been evident in the way Tottenham have played. They have used a back three with wing backs and have relied on the all-action ability of Rodrigo Bentancur and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg to provide sufficient drive, energy and control in the centre of the pitch.
Kane has scored two goals in three games while Dejan Kulusevski has picked up where he left off at the end of last season with a series of eye-catching performances. Son Heung-min, however, has been the one exception. It might be three games into the season, but the South Korean has struggled to make an early impression.
Last season was Son’s best, in terms of goalscoring, in the Premier League as he struck 23 times in just 35 appearances. His partnership with Kane allowed Tottenham to make a successful late challenge for Champions League qualification and gave Conte an attacking core to build his team around.
Son produced just one shot on target against Wolves before being withdrawn for Richarlison after 76 minutes. He didn’t play badly, but Tottenham fans know the heights the South Korean can reach and he has performed a long way below that level in the early part of this season. Conte must find a way to get more out of Son.
Richarlison could give Son a problem if the Brazilian can find form. The former Everton attacker made a good impression in the matches against Chelsea and Wolves and is pushing for his first start as a Tottenham player. If one player has to drop out of the Spurs lineup, Son would surely be the one to make way.
“I think he’s a fantastic player,” Kulusevski said about Richarlison after the Brazilian’s impressive cameo off the bench in the win over Wolves. “He’s come into two games and changed both games for the better. He’s so hungry, and I can improve a lot from him [in terms of] the hunger to get in the box and score.”
Nobody can doubt Son’s quality, and the 30-year-old has a close relationship with Conte who recently described the attacker as “fantastic.” But Conte has created a culture of competition within the Tottenham Hotspur squad and players are expected to maintain the highest standards to keep their place in the team.
It’s this culture that could push Spurs up the Premier League table with Conte at the helm. The Italian coach has been backed in the transfer market with his Tottenham team now a reflection of the former Chelsea and Inter manager’s identity – this was evident in the fight shown in the 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge.
On talent alone, Son is one of the best players currently at Tottenham, but he must prove his worth to Conte otherwise other players, like Richarlison, will step into his place. In theory, the formation and system of Conte’s team should play to Son’s strengths. It’s now up to him to prove he is worth this focus.