Tottenham Hotspur got new boss Nuno Espirito Santo’s reign off to a flying start as recorded a 1-0 opening-day win over a disjointed Manchester City side who are in desperate need of a goalscorer.
Son Heung-Min was the hero in north London as his seventh career strike against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City was enough to put a smile on Spurs supporters’ faces while his absent strike partner Harry Kane’s future remains up in the air.
In a Premier League game that was quite lively in most parts, even if it didn’t match the drama of Sunday’s earlier game, there was a severe lack of quality in the final third for both sides. But Spurs fans were thankful they had proven marksman Son on the pitch as he proved to be the difference in this tight affair.
As for City, there is a gaping hole left in the wake of Sergio Aguero’s departure. The centre-forward role has never been a focal point for City under the stewardship of Guardiola, and they were incredibly fortunate to have a dynamic striker of Aguero’s quality at their disposal. Despite having been a constant subject of the tinkering of the Catalan coach, he could play the style of football City are renowned for and he combined the glitz and the glam with the rugged traditional work of a forward. It was what made him one of the greatest strikers to have ever graced the Premier League.
The club’s only out-and-out striker is Gabriel Jesus, who has been nothing short of a disappointment since his arrival in 2017. You can see what Guardiola thinks of the Brazilian by his decision to operate with Ferran Torres as a false nine for City’s first match in their title defence. There have always been glimpses of something special with Jesus but he has never been able to produce on a consistent level, much to the frustration of his manager and his supporters.
Without that key figure leading the line it appears that City could struggle if they are unsuccessful in luring Tottenham’s Kane to the Etihad. In this game against Kane’s current employers, City had a number of chances but either lacked the killer pass or that clinical finish. Of their first 14 shots on goal, only one hit the target, and while it may be the opening fixture of the season that return is concerning.
Jack Grealish started the game a lot deeper than he needed to be but appeared to play a higher and more central role in the second half. Looking at the stats you would think Torres played terribly, but it could not be further from the truth. The Spaniard was finding some great positions to occupy in the final third and he also pulled off a number of probing runs which none of his teammates were looking to pick out – he probably would have had a field day if Kevin De Bruyne had started the match.
If goals are going to prove to be a problem for City if they cannot get Kane over the line, Guardiola may need to adapt his methods and perhaps swap his midfield so that there is only one combative player in the middle. That would then allow a player like Phil Foden (when back from injury) to help his side with the goal-scoring burden.
The first half was largely played with a fast tempo but it involved both sides cancelling each other out, with Tottenham heavily reliant on catching City out with a counter-attack. Both sides had limited clear-cut chances but the best of the opening period came through Riyad Mahrez for the visitors and Son Heung-min for the hosts. Pep Guardiola’s new £100m man Grealish started to pay back his significant transfer fee early on by drawing a couple of fouls in a competitive battle with Spurs defender Japhet Tanganga, the latter being a standout performer in dealing with both Grealish and Raheem Sterling.
New Spurs boss Nuno Espirito Santo would have been the happier of the two managers at the interval as his side grew into the game after a shaky opening 15 minutes, and the home side started the second period a lot stronger than they did in the first.
After breaks coming at either end it was Spurs who made one count as they took the lead through Son. Steven Bergwijn played him through down the right channel and the South Korean came in on his left foot, getting the better of Nathan Ake, and thumped his effort into the bottom left corner.
It was the crucial moment of the game. Spurs had somebody ready to make a chance count in the area in a way City didn’t. Maybe City need Harry Kane more than was first thought.