Finally Tottenham Hotspur came out fighting. Finally they counter-attacked. After months of feeling under siege, of fearing an implosion as Harry Kane pushed to leave – and still pushes – they emphatically hit back and beat the team who their star striker desperately wants to join.
Defeating Manchester City, the champions 1:0, is a result to savour at any time but especially under these trying circumstances and especially, finally, again in front of a full stadium. The acoustics were astonishing as was the sense of defiance. “Are you watching Harry Kane,” the Spurs fans sang time and again as they released their team was going to win.
It was made all the more delicious that the winning goal was struck, on that brilliant counter, by Son Heung-min who committed his own future to Spurs by signing a new four-year contract in the summer and who was played as a central striker.
Similarly Japhet Tanganga, the 22-year-old academy product, set the tone with some strong challenges – with referee Anthony Taylor even calling over Spurs captain Hugo Lloris to warn the right-back – before he departed to a raucous rendition of “he’s one of our own” which used to be reserved for Kane, of course.
For Spurs’ new head coach Nuno Espirito Santo, who has certainly already got them more organised and with Lucas Moura outstanding, this was a glimpse of a potentially exciting future while for Pep Guardiola there were more questions than answers and not least whether City can prise away Kane. But also how does he get the best out of the £100million signing Jack Grealish who, here, too often played almost the same role as Raheem Sterling until the latter was replaced with 20 minutes to go.
“Harry Kane he wants to be blue,” sang the City fans but they were left feeling that colour as their team barely achieved a meaningful effort on goal despite a string of chances. Guardiola protests but he desperately needs a centre-forward and, if not Kane, City need to quickly try and find someone else.
The only goal summed up Spurs superb endeavour. They broke with Lucas hooking the ball over his shoulder to Steven Bergwijn who ran from deep before finding Son. Nathan Ake backed off and Ederson was distracted by Ruben Dias’ attempts to block Son’s shot as the forward cut in on his left foot and angled the ball into the corner of the net from the area’s edge. That was poor defending from City.
At the final whistle, the celebrations were wild and it felt a far cry from the opening minutes when it looked like City would blow Spurs away. There was an Ilkay Gundogan free-kick deflected narrowly over; a Fernandinho header just wide as Lloris flapped at a cross and a shot from Joao Cancelo shot past the post. On the touchline, Nuno stamped his foot in frustration. As well he might. Spurs could not even gain a foothold. Thousands of flags had been distributed before kick-off and it seemed Spurs were raising a white one as the game unfolded.
But they held on in there and worked their way back. Davinson Sanchez beat Ederson to a free-kick with his looping header falling to Lucas whose goal-bound volley was turned behind by Gundogan. Then they attacked quickly with Lucas finding Son who shifted the ball onto his right foot with his shot brushing off Ruben Dias’ backside and bouncing only a foot wide.
Still the best chance of the first-half fell to City with Riyad Mahrez somehow managing to strike the ball off target when it dropped to him seven yards out and unmarked from Sterling’s low cross.
City paid the price for their wastefulness with Son’s goal. Once Spurs were ahead they should have doubled that advantage when they poured forward as City pushed with Lucas again running with purpose, riding challenges and play being allowed to continue as he was eventually fouled with the ball going to Bergwijn who shot wide with only Ederson to beat.
Grealish had to do better than shoot straight at Lloris from a tight angle, as did Ferran Torres as he was beaten to a cross before Lloris’ held a low drive from substitute Kevin de Bruyne. It became increasingly spiky as City’s desperation grew but so did Spurs will to hold on. Deservedly they won and the raw noise from the Spurs fans said it all.
Pep Guardiola has now lost more away games against Spurs in all competitions than against any other opponent away from home (5). All five have come while in charge of Manchester City, with each of the last four coming at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
After winning 12 consecutive away games in the Premier League between December 2020 and May 2021, Manchester City have lost each of their last two away from home in the competition – 2-3 v Brighton on the final day of last season and 0-1 against Spurs.
Son Heung-Min has scored seven goals for Spurs against Manchester City across all competitions – only Jamie Vardy (9) has netted more against them since Pep Guardiola took charge in 2016.