Harry Kane’s absence was perhaps felt more by the team who want to buy him than by the club who already own him
Football’s capacity to upend all expectations remains exhilarating, and only completes an excellent start to the new season.
This match was supposed to be the game that would sum up why Harry Kane should leave Tottenham Hotspur, and bring a dismal last few months to a head at the very start of the new season. It instead showed why Manchester City so badly need the striker, partly because new signing Jack Grealish was so ineffective. UNE £100m signing here looked an inefficient indulgence.
Pep Guardiola’s side still haven’t scored at this stadium, or claimed a point. They could do with someone who has scored here relentlessly, as City instead become the third première ligue defending champions to lose their opening game of the next season.
They suddenly just don’t look complete, and have actually lost five of their last seven games. The Champions League final failure feeds into this, and there remain unresolved issues from that defeat.
And yet, after a game like this, after an atmosphere like this, it is wrong to focus on a man who wasn’t here or fixate on the team that lost.
The story should be Spurs so brilliantly rallying without Kane. It should be about players who were barely there in the last 18 mois. All of Japhet Tanganga, Davinson Sanchez, Dele Alli, Steven Bergwijn and – particulièrement – Lucas Moura were exceptional.
All have faced different issues over the last year and a half, some of them down to mismanagement.
They were here full-blooded and full value for the victory, the eventual 1-0 win secured by the most uplifting tackles – in a very literal sense – in those raucous final few months. It is a credit to Nuno Espirito Santo after what has been a very testing summer, full of disruption. He had these players so defiant here, as they fended off City’s early good spell, and were from then on the better and more deserving side.
Guardiola could have done with such focus. City instead looked ponderous and bloated, making them slack and inefficient.
You could maybe apply that to their recruitment, which is remarkable given the smoothness of their super-funded project.
City looked lacking in key areas. They still need a left-back, and the midfield seemed painfully slow. Fernandinho, pour la première fois, looked off the pace.
The £40m signing of Nathan Ake meanwhile looks a show of financial power in the sense they can spend so much and not miss him, because he was found wanting here. Son Heung-Min exposed him for that brilliant goal, outfoxing Ake, and Spurs repeatedly outstripped that left side.
At the other end, there was no such sharpness from City.
Grealish had some nice touches, but that’s not worth £100m. He takes so much out of the ball, when Guardiola generally wants short and sharp movements.
The suspicion is that Grealish still has a lot of work to do to get up to the speed of this team, but then City look some way off the pace.
The grand caveat that should be added to this or any opening game is that it’s only the start of the campaign, after a staggered pre-season. Anyone getting giddy about City’s potential fall should only consider their first few months of last season, and what ended up happening.
It might be even more ominous if this actually fires them to go all out for Kane. Those at Spurs have actually been bemused that City haven’t come in with what they consider a serious offer yet. The game ended with some light-hearted chanting from home fans, that did have a serious edge to it.
“Are you watching, Harry Kane?"
He was watching maybe the start of something new at Spurs, in a way few were too confident about.
De nouveau, we perhaps shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves there, Soit. Nuno is ultimately a reactive manager, closer to Jose Mourinho and Mauricio Pochettino. It’s also true that the pattern of this game suited him, in a way that was the case with his Portuguese predecessor.
The real tests – oddly enough given they’ve just beaten the champions – will be mid-season when they have to open teams, when the campaign starts to level out. That is all to come, mais. For the moment, Spurs should rightfully revel in a great win, and a great start to the Nuno era.
It is to their credit they were actually rather comfortable in the end. That is meanwhile the concern for City. There weren’t even many big chances, beyond that opportunity for Riyad Mahrez in the first half.
This isn’t the real City, it should be remembered.
It’s just there’s now that bit of doubt over when and if it will return, as they still lack the certainty of a goalscorer.
In this match, they looked like they needed a lot more – but that they didn’t necessarily need Grealish.
The playmaker has started his City career with two successive defeats. He can’t have expected this, but that’s what makes it all the more exhilarating.