Harry Kane always believed he would have a say in the destination of the Premier League title. It was just that he thought he would be helping Manchester City towards it rather than standing in their way.
The Tottenham striker’s desire to join City last summer has been well-documented. His employer simply said no. Here, despite the inevitable protestations to the contrary, Kane appeared determined to show City what they were missing.
Kane was irrepressible from start to finish, producing one of the finest individual displays of the season, a fusion of hard work, creativity and ruthlessness in front of goal.
Time and again, the England captain dropped deep to pick sumptuous passes, the first to set in train Dejan Kulusevski’s early opener. After City had hit back to equalise through Ilkay Gündogan – the midfielder capitalising upon an error by Hugo Lloris – Kane would make it 2-1 midway through the second half, having driven the move at the outset.
It was the prompt for a crazy finale, coloured by VAR interventions that twice nobbled Spurs and, deep into stoppage time, a final dose of Kane magic.
Kane and his teammates had celebrated in the 73rd minute when he jinked inside to slam a low shot past Ederson. It looked to be 3-1 and, possibly, game over until the VAR lines came out to spot that Kulusevski had strayed fractionally offside in the buildup.
Worse was to follow for Spurs. The 90 minutes were almost up when Bernardo Silva hammered a ball across the face of goal and watched it strike the arm of Cristian Romero, who had excelled in the Spurs back three. Romero had thrown himself into an attempted block and the arm was not in a natural position.
Riyad Mahrez, City’s top scorer, who had entered as a substitute, smashed the penalty into the roof of the net for his club’s 100th goal in all competitions this season and the escape act seemed on. “Heartbreaking,” Kane called it. But there would be more from him. Deep into stoppage time. In scarcely believable fashion.
Kulusevski, the January signing from Juventus, who had a full Premier League debut to remember, collected a fine pass from Rodrigo Bentancur, the other new boy from Juventus, to cross from the right and Kane, charging in front of Kyle Walker, rose to direct a header into the bottom corner.
After three straight league defeats and the sense that Antonio Conte’s Spurs honeymoon was over, the manager had the statement victory he had craved and it was one to fire the club’s hopes of a top-four finish.
City were stunned. They had dominated the ball and the shot count while one statistic showed they had enjoyed 62 touches in the opposition penalty area to Spurs’ seven. Another revealed City had played 104 passes into the final third – a record under Pep Guardiola.
City could not suppress Kane and, with Liverpool beating Norwich earlier in the day, they saw their lead at the top of the table cut to six points – this a first league defeat in 16 matches, 14 of them wins. Liverpool have a game in hand. City’s position remains healthy and it is surely not one to be traded but Guardiola and his players know that they have to give a response at Everton next Saturday.
Kulusevski had swept home nervelessly from Son Heung-min’s square ball but the first goal of a genuine thriller was mainly about Kane’s pre-assist – a first-time, around-the-corner pass on halfway. It highlighted the instinctive understanding between him and Son and it would be far from an isolated example.
City explode in flurries, flying at opponents from all angles, creating openings and they had one from the 17th minute. João Cancelo was the catalyst. Playing high up the left flank, a full-back in name only, he tricked past two white shirts to curl wide; almost combined with Raheem Sterling and also lashed a rising drive off target. In among it all, Gündogan got the better of Pierre-Emile Højbjerg but curled the ball against the far post.
Spurs defended valiantly in the first half, Ben Davies making one vital block; Emerson Royal two more. Which was why the manner of the equaliser was so difficult for them to stomach. Kevin De Bruyne had lunged to try to reach a Sterling cross and perhaps this is what unnerved Lloris. But really there was no excuse for the veteran goalkeeper’s fumble. Gündogan blasted home the loose ball. Spurs wanted a foul on Ryan Sessegnon by Walker in the buildup but it was debatable and many phases beforehand.
Rúben Dias had needed to be alert to snap into a tackle on Kane in the 39th minute and Spurs continued to believe that they could hurt City on the break in the second half.
Kane threatened to connect with Son and Kulusevski before he turned the game on its head. He dropped off to play yet another pass and, when City could not clear, Sessegnon found Son and he crossed for Kane, who had continued his run. The close-range finish was clinical.
Kane blew a one-on-one with Ederson shortly afterwards following another Son ball while Lloris would save brilliantly to keep out a Gündogan curler before the VAR dramas and the last-gasp winner. Conte, who deals only in brutal realism, had described City as “almost perfect” and on a “different level” to his team. Kane would bring the fantasy.