Hurricane Harry blows the title race WIDE open: Kane produced one of the performances of the season in Tottenham’s win at Man City as Antonio Conte got his tactics spot on in defence and attack
- Tottenham beat Premier League leaders Manchester City 3-2 at the Etihad
- Harry Kane scored twice, including the winner deep into injury-time
- Liverpool have now closed the gap on Pep Guardiola’s side to six points
It’s a good job Manchester City had the title wrapped up weeks ago, otherwise this might have had them fidgeting nervously. Oh.
Pep Guardiola has been stressing that the so-called procession was actually no such thing — pointing at Liverpool’s game in hand against Leeds on Wednesday — and very few were listening. Well, the lead could be cut to three points in midweek. Then we have a real title race, but didn’t that always exist? Jurgen Klopp will have certainly thought so; anything less would be unusually defeatist.
City came from behind during that enthralling dash to the finish in 2019 and there is absolutely no reason why Liverpool cannot chase down similar ground. These are Europe’s best two teams, after all, and it is a rivalry that should be cherished. Buckle up.
Harry Kane (left) produced a superb performance against City to blow the title race wide open
But Guardiola knew of the potential for twists, perplexed that City were being anointed champions so early by people who should know better.
‘I never said the title race was over. It’s normal,’ he said.
‘I said weeks ago we have to make a lot of points to be champions and this is what we will try to do.’
He predicted they needed approaching 96 points to lift a third crown in four years. He even warned on Friday that the law of averages meant Tottenham could not possibly lose four consecutive Premier League games.
Add in something of a strange voodoo where Spurs are concerned — City have won only one of the last six league meetings — and here you had a barmy, dramatic night when City snatched defeat at the death, events orchestrated by the man they were so desperate to sign last summer.
From defence to attack, Antonio Conte got everything spot on in Saturday’s win at the Etihad
There will not be many better centre forward performances all season than Harry Kane’s, leaving with a brace and having produced a stunning pass in the build-up to their early opener, which left Antonio Conte’s players opened mouthed as they celebrated. ‘That wasn’t the plan,’ admitted goalscorer Dejan Kulusevski following a hugely encouraging full debut.
Conte had this spot on going forward: attack wide and attack fast. Spurs showed up Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte — City missed John Stones — on the break. Kane drifted into menacing areas, picked up by nobody. Kulusevski and Son Heung-min gleefully accepted his precise through balls.
Conte also had this spot on going the other way, too: defend narrow, force City wide. Let them cross the ball aerially, not on the floor. City’s 34 open play crosses — just seven of which were successful — is second only to the 39 attempted against Southampton during a turgid home draw in September. Third on the list came from a slender one-goal win over Wolves. A clear pattern. Prodigious young striker Liam Delap, a physical presence proficient with his head, remained on the bench.
Pep Guardiola (pictured) has always maintained his stance that the title race is not yet done
There felt a deep irony to all this when leaving the Etihad. For the first time in a long time — City’s last league defeat was in October — the internet was not awash with accusations that they were boring, on a night of their dullest performance in months. Ilkay Gundogan called it ‘a wake-up call’.
Guardiola had tried to raise an alarm beforehand. ‘All this about Tottenham being in a bad moment and Antonio saying they cannot qualify [for Europe], I don’t like it,’ he said. ‘I know how competitive they are and how competitive Antonio is.’ More broadly on Spurs, he added: ‘When I landed here in England, the most impressive team was the first Tottenham I met with Mauricio Pochettino. I said, ‘This team is fourth in the table?’ It made me realise that the Premier League is completely different.’
That is Conte’s challenge: restore the verve of Pochettino’s incarnation. And can he make sure this team avoid silly results? Here came evidence that there are at least some tools at his disposal. Rodrigo Bentancur, who like Kulusevski joined from Juventus in January, offered steel and made one particular tactical foul that will have pleased Conte as much as anything else. Both add more quality, even if Tottenham’s week had been bulldozed by translation issues of the manager’s fears at the trimming of his squad once the transfer window shut.
‘Honestly this is one of the best group of players I’ve worked with in my career,’ Conte beamed. ‘I consider at this moment that City are the best team in the world. This type of performance has to give us confidence.
‘We showed that we are working very well, that we are creating a stable team. When you have this kind of performance against City after three defeats, it means we are starting to be stable.’
Conte was anything but stable when Kane headed home the 95th-minute winner, moments after Riyad Mahrez equalised from the spot. The Etihad was silent as Kulusevski delivered the cross, the air only filled by an excitable Italian shrieking in delight even before the ball met netting. Conte will hope it proves a seismic moment, while Guardiola must hope the opposite.