Premier League champions Manchester City were defeated in the opening match of their title defence as Tottenham Hotspur celebrated a 1-0 victory in manager Nuno Espirito Santo’s first game in charge.
Son Heung-Min goal early in the second half secured the win as Jack Grealish suffered a defeat on his first start for Pep Guardiola’s side since arriving in a British record £100 million transfer from Aston Villa.
Steven Bergwijn missed a golden opportunity to double Spurs’ lead, as City turned to Kevin De Bruyne from the bench in an effort to find an equaliser. The Belgian international and Grealish forced saves from Hugo Lloris but it was an unusually subdued performance from the defending champions.
Spurs striker Harry Kane, who has been linked with a move to City this summer, was left out of his side’s matchday squad after only arriving back to training on Friday.
Here are five things we learned:
Harry Kane’s absence looms large…
Throughout the summer, the future of Harry Kane has perhaps been the biggest talking point in English football. The opening weekend of the season pairing Spurs and City together only heightened the drama. Would he be lining up for Spurs or City by the start of the new campaign?
In the end it was neither, with the England captain’s desired move to City yet to materialise and his comeback to Spurs training only starting on Friday. Kane was left out due to fitness reasons, his manager Nuno said, and the absence of the 28-year-old was clear for all to see – with regards to Pep Guardiola’s side.
City started with Ferran Torres up front and the match largely passed the Spain international by. It was not difficult to imagine how much more dangerous City would have been with a focal point, primed to lap up the service of Raheem Sterling, Grealish and Riyad Mahrez, let alone a frontman as dangerous as Kane. Joao Cancelo’s driven ball across the face of goal was begging for a striker such as Kane to make the bursting run to the into the six-yard box – but Torres’ movement was lacking.
A striker of his calibre seems to be City’s final piece, as they look to retain the Premier League and win the Champions League this campaign, and the Sky Blues were punished after failing to capitalise on their ascendency when Son opened the scoring on the break early in the second half.
…but Son shines in taking centre stage
Kane and Son’s partnership last season was one of the few positive aspects of a disappointing campaign for Spurs, with the duo combining for a record number of goals in the Premier League.
Against City, Son was missing Kane but was deployed by manager Nuno in his position in the middle of Spurs’ front three. The South Korean was Tottenham’s most dangerous outlet against City, despite turning down two opportunities to attack City defender Nathan Ake in the first half when his side were on the break.
However, something must have been said to the forward at the break as Son came out from the interval and went straight at Ake at his first opportunity, before bending the ball into the far corner with his left foot.
It was a typical Son goal but unlike most of his strikes last season, it was not provided by Kane. Should the England captain complete his move to City this summer, there will be even more responsibility on the 29-year-old’s shoulders to be Spurs’ main man. After signing a new four-year contract this summer, there are certainly no doubts about his future at the club.
Jack Grealish debuts in midfield three
The suspicion came from the team sheet, the confirmation came from his positioning: Jack Grealish was starting in his first match for Manchester City on the left side of central midfield.
There was much debate around where Grealish would fit into to City’s star-studded squad but a bursting run through a gap early on, only to be brought down of the edge of the box by Oliver Skipp, gave an early indication of why Guardiola was so eager to break the British transfer record for the England international – and the combinations between Grealish and Sterling on City’s left also pointed to why the City manager has looked to pair them up on that side of the pitch.
City and Grealish’s momentum rather ground to a halt in the second half, however, as the pace of their play dropped significantly. Grealish still saw plenty of the ball but there were fewer dangerous attacks involving him and Sterling, who was eventually brought off. The former Villa captain was moved out to the left wing, where he had his best opportunity of the game but he couldn’t squeeze a shot past Lloris.
It is still far too early to cast assessments on Grealish at City, as he still has so much to take in. Within the opening five minutes, both Fernandinho and Ruben Dias could be seen whispering instructions into Grealish’s ear – as if he needed some last-minute reminders after the deluge of information he would have received from Guardiola in his first two weeks as a City player. The return of Kevin De Bruyne to the right side of City’s midfield three would give the side a better balance, in what would be an even more stacked line-up.
First impressions of Spurs under Nuno
Despite being on the back foot for much of the contest, there were plenty of promising signs for Tottenham Hotspur fans as Nuno Espirito Santo took charge of the club for the first time in the Premier League.
They had to ride the wave of City attacks to start the match but gradually gained a foothold and were noticeably more assertive and aggressive in their approach than they often were under Nuno’s predecessor Jose Mourinho.
While a counter-attacking approach is often the way to go against Pep Guardiola’s side, there were spells where Spurs had more of the ball than City, which was rarely the case under Mourinho despite the victories they twice secured over Guardiola at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium in recent campaigns.
Ultimately though, the counter was their most effective route to goal, with Son’s strike to break the deadlock coming from a breakaway. Bergwijn’s chance shortly after also came from such a move, and it was clear that Nuno got his gameplan spot on.
The most pleasing sign for Spurs fans, however, were that the players were firmly up for the fight and battled brilliantly throughout the match. There could be no accusations of Spurs players hiding or shirking from the contest, as there had been under the final days of Mourinho last season.
Tanganga shines as defender takes his chance
Japhet Tanganga was rewarded for his impressive pre-season form with a start at right back in Spurs’ opening game of the Premier League season and repaid his manager’s faith with another excellent display.
The defender played extremely close to the line against City as he tried to stay tight to Sterling throughout, even as he picked up four fouls and somehow avoided a yellow card in the first half – but the approach proved effective as he did an excellent job in shutting down City’s left side.
With all due respect to the Ivorian defender, it was hard to imagine Serge Aurier sticking to the task so diligently and Tanganga looks to have secured Nuno’s right back spot for the first few weeks of the season, at least, following an injury-hit campaign last term.
He was given a standing ovation by his home supporters as he was withdrawn in the 83rd minute.
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