Harry Kane scored the only goal as Spurs beat Manchester City at White Hart Lane 2.0 yet again. That one goal managed to be his 200th in the Premier League, a record-breaking 267th goal for Spurs and also his very first goal for Arsenal. Impressive stuff, you have to say.
1. Can’t start anywhere else, can we? With the only goal of the game, Harry Kane became the first player to score 200 Premier League goals for a single club, only the third to reach that total in all, and in scoring his 267th goal in all for Spurs went past Jimmy Greaves’ all-time record for the club.
It wasn’t the cleanest or most precise of those 267 but it was enough to make sure Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s industry and Rodri’s sloppiness were rewarded and punished respectively. And it might just be one of the most important of his goals given what it means to the title race and top-four picture. Has he in fact scored all those 200 goals for a single club? Because this was a pretty big goal for Arsenal…
2. This was a huge opportunity grasped by Spurs in a season where they haven’t always been quick to do so. Playing last on the weekend can work both ways and here Spurs came into the game knowing five of the top half had already dropped points this weekend, including Newcastle, Chelsea and Liverpool.
Knowing victory would take them within a point of Newcastle and nine and 10 clear of Chelsea and Liverpool. It’s not the sort of opportunity one necessarily expects Spurs to take, but take it they deservedly did. It’s their first win of the season against any of the teams above them in the league, one that puts firmly back in the top-four picture at exactly the same point where they began last season’s charge. And they don’t have to play Arsenal or City again.
3. And of course the opposite is true for City, who have missed an opportunity to stamp their authority on this title race. A rare sign of weakness from Arsenal was a chance for City to remind everyone that they’ve been here before, that this is what they do, and that it’s all scary and thrilling and new and unknown for Arsenal.
Given that, there is perhaps no stadium Pep Guardiola would have wanted to go to less than the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, where he and his team have a cartoonishly abysmal record. Seriously, imagine compiling one of the most expensive and brilliant football teams of all time under one of the great managers of the age and have Tottenham as your bogey team. Absurd areas.
And yet here we are. This was City’s fifth visit to Spurs’ new stadium and their fifth defeat. An xG of 9.79 across those five games for Pep’s men has delivered an actual G of 0.00. City have missed two penalties at this ground. Kyle Walker’s five defeats in Tottenham as a City player are the same number he suffered in his final three and a half years as a Tottenham player.
4. On the subject of xG and 0.00, that was Erling Haaland’s figure on a miserable afternoon for the Norwegian, one spent almost entirely in Eric Dier’s back pocket. It feels vaguely absurd to criticise a man who remains firmly on track to break all known single-season Premier League scoring records, but on the days when the goals and even the shots don’t come he is a passenger. Or arguably worse than that, an actual negative.
Haaland on his bad days can still look oddly out of place in this City team. A brilliant battering ram in an intricate machine of delicate moving parts. And the lack of all-round play of the sort so conspicuously present in the man who scored against City today and whom they were so strongly linked 18 months ago means a second striker, Julian Alvarez, has to be deployed alongside Haaland leaving City shorter than they would like in midfield. Today was the most troubling example of the phenomenon yet; for just about the first time under Guardiola, City are starting to quite often look like an expensively assembled gaggle of brilliant footballers rather than an expensively assembled brilliant football team.
5. It doesn’t help that Guardiola appears increasingly determined to treat every big Premier League game like a Champions League knockout tie with clever-clever selections and baffling tactics. One could almost believe he’s actively trying to make life harder for himself and his team. Like he’s so thoroughly completed Premier League football that he’s now just doing side quests. Can we beat a Champions League team without a midfield? What if I put Kevin De Bruyne on the bench again for some reason? Can we win without Big Erl having a single shot on goal?
This was a bafflingly poor performance from City, who dominated possession without ever looking like doing anything much with it while simultaneously leaving themselves wildly open to Spurs’ counter-attacks. If you wanted to come up with the precise way not to play against this Spurs team, it would look very much like what City did today. Baffling.
6. But City’s quality is such that it could still have worked without Spurs playing really bloody well. This was comfortably their best performance of the season, one of the very best of the Antonio Conte era – albeit without the manager present – and one in which players all over the pitch stood up.
Emerson Royal and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg had surely their best games for the club, all three centre-backs were magnificent while the sight of Manchester City continues to do things to Son Heung-min who looked far more like last season’s iteration than has generally been the case for a while now.
7. Credit must go to Spurs, and criticism to City, for how comfortable it all felt. Clearly City were never out of it at 1-0 with the quality they possess, but at no point did it ever really feel like an equaliser was definitely around the corner. Given that barely a fortnight ago this City team had roared back from 2-0 down to blow this Spurs team away, it really was strikingly strange to see things all look so serene and straightforward for Spurs.
8. We find ourselves wondering whether Conte’s absence from the touchline after gallbladder surgery might actually have helped Spurs here. This was not an afternoon for histrionics, but one for calm focus. And Conte’s trusted assistant Christian Stellini is certainly a calmer touchline presence. #StelliniCam is not going to do as well on the socials, but it might be just what Spurs needed in this specific environment as they did their absent boss proud by delivering a Conteball Masterclass in his absence, restricting City to low-quality chances and desperate handball appeals while always looking like a dangerous side capable of adding more goals to the scoreline, at least until Romero’s red.
9. Spurs have finally moved to address the conspicuous problem they have at right wing-back with the signing of Pedro Porro from Sporting, but he was never likely to figure today even had Conte been around to actually watch him train. This was a day that always called more for Emerson’s defensive chops and he was magnificent. His running battle with Jack Grealish, City’s most threatening but also frustrating attacker on a weird afternoon.
Emerson didn’t win every battle with Grealish – it would be unreasonable to expect anyone to do so – but he stuck with the England man throughout and also got inside his head.
Grealish was the most fouled player on the pitch – not unusually – with seven, but also committed a match-leading five fouls himself. That surely must be more unusual. Emerson himself was fouled five times. It was a fun battle.
10. If Emerson emerging triumphant from his persona battle with Grealish was surprising, that was nothing compared to the shock of how thoroughly Hojbjerg bested Rodri in the middle of the park. The tone was set in the way Hojbjerg anticipated and pounced on Rodri’s mistake to superbly set up Kane’s match-winning, record-breaking goal but that was merely the most conspicuous example of a running theme through the afternoon.
Hojbjerg can be immensely irritating on his bad days, on those occasions when ostentatious gesturing replaces any actual football activity. But at his best for Spurs he can become a sensational all-action midfielder. This was one such afternoon.
11. If Kane took the headlines while Hojbjerg and Royal put in man-of-the-match candidate performances, the most interesting body of work perhaps came from Cristian Romero. Can the man of the match award go to a player whose been sent off? There was a genuine case to be made for it today.
Romero’s two bookings were very different, but both in their way understandable. The one that brought his dismissal late on came as Grealish danced round him. It’s the sort of booking any defender is at near constant risk of picking up against a team like City.
Which makes Romero’s first booking even more interesting. It was on the face of it an extremely silly booking to collect, dished out inevitably for a reducer on Haaland inside City’s half. It’s not the first time Romero has picked up precisely that sort of booking and he sometimes almost seems to need to get himself booked just to get him in the game. Like Guardiola’s team selection, it’s like he’s determined to play on a harder difficulty setting than necessary.
But was that daft first booking actually a selfless and crucial part of how the game panned out? It left Romero on a tightrope from which he ultimately stumbled, but it also left Haaland markedly less keen to get involved with the physical side of the game.
It might be giving Romero too much credit given the frequency with which he collects these sorts of bookings for fouls on lesser players than Haaland. It probably is exactly what it looks like: a brilliant but relentlessly aggressive defender who just loves to get involved. But intended or otherwise, the consequence of his action was a reduced and cowed Haaland for the rest of the game.
12. One thing that is absolutely certain about Romero’s red card, though, is this. He was sent off with seven minutes remaining of a game Spurs were already winning. We must all be absolutely vigilant to stop this being described as a win for “10-man Tottenham”. We’ve seen it several times already. You know who you are. You know what you’re doing.
We’re not certain exactly what the criteria should be before something can be described as a “10-man win” but we know it when we don’t see it. This was not that.
13. Rico Lewis has been a breakout star for Manchester City this season at right-back and there’s absolutely no doubt that Guardiola is willing to back him. Asking him to fill in here at left-back was a new challenge, though, and on a day that was generally challenging for a City side whose star players simply didn’t turn up, Lewis was a bright spot. Dejan Kulusevski had a quiet game, while Emerson Royal’s near laser focus on Grealish might also have made Lewis’ life that little bit easier.
But he’s come to a ground where City have struggled in the past and struggled again, and playing only his ninth Premier League game in an unfamiliar position, his performance was a rare bright spot.
14. Let’s finish up with some observations about the record-breaker. The trophy thing will be wheeled out now, of course, and it’s certainly valid to do so even if it isn’t always done entirely in good faith.
But it’s also true that, as Paul Robinson managed to rather clumsily attempt to say in an unfortunately worded tweet, that Kane doing what he’s done for a team that doesn’t sweep all before it is in its way more not less admirable.
15. And nor is his 200 goals a mere achievement of longevity. While Haaland may yet obliterate every mark Kane can set him if the lure of Barcelona doesn’t become too strong, Kane has got to his 200 faster than Alan Shearer and way faster than Wayne Rooney.
His record of a goal every 127 minutes is the third best among all players with a deliberately Haaland-excluding minimum of 30 Premier League goals, behind only Thierry Henry (122) and Sergio Aguero (107).
16. He might not have any trophies, but it’s still not bad for a one-season wonder.