Son Heung-min stuns Man City as Spurs start season with 1-0 win
Son Heung-min kicked off the 2021-22 Premier League season in explosive form on Sunday, scoring the only goal in Tottenham Hotspur's 1-0 win over reigning champions Manchester City.
It was a hugely important win for Spurs, playing their first league game under new manager Nuno Espirito Santo without Harry Kane, who is still on the Tottenham books but wasn't included in the lineup for the match.
In Kane's absence it was Son that led Spurs to the win, stepping into somewhat unfamiliar territory in the center forward spot.
Despite the final score, it was City that looked strongest at the beginning of the game, dominating the first 10 minutes and putting Spurs on the back foot early on. But City couldn't convert — which is exactly why they've spent the last two months trying to buy Kane — and Spurs could.
Son's winner came in the 55th winner, a beautiful low shot from just outside the box that cut through the defenders and past City goalkeeper Ederson. Despite playing as center forward, Son found himself back on the wing for the goal, picking up the ball on the right and then working his way around the defender to get a shot on goal.
City had no response, and despite 18 shots, four of which were on target, and 66 percent of the ball, the reigning champions left Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London empty-handed.
The win was a deserved one for Spurs, who held City back and came through where it counted, even without Kane on the side. Tottenham also successfully silenced £100-million-man Jack Grealish, who became the most expensive English player ever when he joined City this summer.
Tottenham's victory wasn't completely unexpected. The London club have been a thorn in the side of City for years, beating them at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in the last two seasons. In fact, Sunday's win marks the first time in City manager Pep Guardiola's career that he has lost four away games in a row to the same team.
Spurs and City have now played the opening game of the season against each other four times, and Spurs have never lost. The London club won on Sunday and in the 1990-91 season, while the two sides drew in 1995-96 and 2010-11.
Yet despite the history, Sunday's win was by no means a sure thing for Tottenham. City have won their opening match every season for the last decade before this year, while Tottenham dropped their opening game just last year to Everton.
Kane's future remains a serious concern for Spurs. He is still under contract with the club but has repeatedly made it clear that he wants to leave. The issue reached a head in the last couple of weeks, when Kane refused to show up for pre-season training with Tottenham.
Kane did eventually resume training, but questions still remain over his future. After Sunday's game, Spurs' manager Nuno admitted he didn't even know where Kane was watching the game.
But Kane or no Kane, Spurs got on just fine. The game highlighted areas that the team needs to work on, but that is exactly what early games are supposed to do. There were some generally inspired performances —Japhet Tanganga in defense and Lucas Moura and Son up front, to name a few — and plenty of reasons for the players and fans to rally behind Nuno going forward.
Spurs have returned from a potentially crippling break looking confident, with a lineup that still works and a new manager that knows how to lead them. Whether the club will finally be able to convert that early confidence into a successful season and maybe even some silverware in the spring remains to be seen.
BY JIM BULLEY [email@example.com]