Pep Guardiola’s men wilt under heat as striker hits 200th Premier League goal
Tottenham Hotspur 1, Manchester City 0
Never before has a Harry Kane goal for Tottenham Hotspur been so celebrated across the whole of north London.
The 29-year-old’s predatory first-half strike broke the record he jointly held with Jimmy Greaves as Tottenham’s all-time leading goalscorer, taking him to 267, but also maintained Arsenal’s clear advantage in the Premier League title race.
Spurs may have mixed feelings about helping their bitter rivals preserve their five-point advantage at the top of the table, with a game in hand, but this raw victory over Manchester City was precious for them in their fight for a Champions League qualification place.
Without manager Antonio Conte, who is recuperating at home in Turin after having his gallbladder removed, this was a stirring performance inside a raucous, baying stadium against the champions and was overseen by Cristian Stellini, the Italian’s assistant.
“I wanted to win so bad,” Kane later said and it summed up the belligerent mood of his team as they aggressively went at the champions and never relented. Rarely has the “he’s one of our own” chant for the forward been sung so passionately.
For City, it was a severe blow. It was also a warning sign.
Only a fool would write them off, given their capacity to overwhelm any opponent, but suddenly they look like a team in transition. With Joao Cancelo leaving it means that five of the players who featured in the final-day drama of winning the title against Aston Villa have now gone, leaving Pep Guardiola to juggle permutations, line-ups and formations.
They had the chance, after Arsenal’s defeat at Everton, to close the gap to just two points, but instead lost their fifth game out of five at this stadium, despite Spurs ending the encounter with 10 men after the late dismissal of Cristian Romero.
It was a full-blooded fixture, and it was summed up by Romero’s uncompromising approach although questions will again be asked about Guardiola’s team selection, with Kevin De Bruyne starting on the bench.
After the 4-2 win against Spurs last month, coming back from 2-0 down at half-time, Guardiola came out fighting, raging against the complacency and “happy flowers” culture at the club. Against Spurs this time, the flowers wilted.
The City manager wanted to sign Kane the year before he brought in Erling Haaland and, while Kane scored, the young Norwegian did not even have a sniff of a goal as City inevitably dominated possession but could not create clear opportunities.
It was the first time since he joined City that Haaland did not have even a single attempt on goal, while he is yet to score away from the Etihad in 2023. And so it ended 1-0 to the “Harry Kane team” – as Guardiola famously referred to Spurs – with the goal also being his 200th in the Premier League.
It was an “I was there” moment and came 15 minutes in. Rodri was caught overplaying. His importance to City’s system is crucial, but this was not the midfielder’s best game and, as he dallied before attempting to find Rico Lewis on the edge of his own penalty area, he left the 18-year-old under too much pressure. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg stole away possession and held off opponents before stabbing the ball to Kane, who struck it across Ederson and into the net.
Until then it had felt almost too easy for City, who were enjoying 84 per cent of possession, but the goal gave Spurs a rallying point.
It was a standard, a flag for them to defend and they put their bodies on the line.
Tactically, it was set up perfectly for them to choose their moments to press and to continue to target the increasingly uncomfortable Rodri and also, crucially, to break on the counter-attack.
The game-plan worked to a tee in what was their best performance of the season.
It helped that City continued to over-play with Guardiola throwing his arms up in exasperation as Haaland spurned the chance to shoot and instead picked out Jack Grealish, who came in for some rough challenges, but was not so well-placed. He curled the ball over.
Nevertheless, they came close to drawing level in first-half added time with the ball running through to Riyad Mahrez who took a touch and crashed a half-volley off the crossbar. But that was as near as they got to salvaging the contest.
Guardiola called for De Bruyne just before the hour and it looked like he might provide the key to unlock Spurs as he picked out Julian Alvarez with a clever free-kick and then side-footed wastefully wide.
But Spurs remained defiant and actually almost scored again when Kane was inches away from reaching Ivan Perisic’s low cross after another rapid counter-attack led by, of all people, Romero. But it was thrilling that they were prepared to do it.
Ederson would later deny Kane before, in added time, Rodri appeared set to head home the equaliser only for Hugo Lloris to get fingertips to the cross and also catch the Spaniard in the face.
It was not Rodri or City’s day. Instead it emphatically belonged to Kane, Spurs and Arsenal.
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