In the discussions that ultimately led Pep Guardiola to sign a new contract at Manchester City, new signings were naturally a key part of negotiations, and there was one striker that the Catalan particularly namechecked. That was the striker who played such an influential part in his latest defeat: Harry Kane.
Guardiola would like City to investigate the possibility of signing him. Some of those who know Kane well do believe he may push to leave if Spurs do not win a trophy this season. It is something he is desperate to change.
It’s just a lot has changed around the club, too.
There is suddenly a lot more confidence about winning that trophy, and maybe even the league. That is because - among a few areas - there is a lot more confidence about their attack, and certainly more so than City.
Kane is central to this, in so many ways. He was certainly central to it in Saturday’s 2-0 win. Most prominently, there was the workrate and playmaking, as he offered himself as the fulcrum around which the rest of the Spurs attack moved.
It often felt he was doing the work of two players the way he would drop back and battle it out with City’s midfielders, before then causing such problems for their defenders. His run off the ball for the opening goal dragged their backline out of position, and made it so easy for Son Meung-Hin.
This is pretty much Mourinho’s ideal of a number-nine, and the Portuguese was naturally gushing about Kane after the game.
“Harry Kane will maybe change the way people look at a striker,” he said. “A striker can be man of the match without scoring a goal. He is fantastic and represents very well the spirit of the team.”
His performance also now represents the range of the team.
It isn’t too long ago that the genuine danger for Spurs was that if Kane didn’t score, no one would. They were dependent on him.
Guardiola himself once greatly aggrieved Mauricio Pochettino by referring to Spurs as “the Harry Kane team”, although many believe that was genuinely more a reflection of the Catalan’s admiration of the player rather than any dig at the Argentine.
Whatever the truth of that, it is pointed how things have swung. Mourinho’s Spurs, unlike City, currently have goals coming from every angle. They barely have goals at all. It’s currently 10 in eight in the league, and five from the last six.
After another poor attacking performance, Guardiola was inevitably asked about the absence of Sergio Aguero. He deflected, and pointed to the 22 shots they had, and how that should be enough. It’s not the first time Guardiola has lamented his side’s lack of efficiency in the box.
A striker like Aguero, or indeed Kane, would immediately solve so much.
But it feels like this goes further back than that, and deeper. Few of the 22 shots Guardiola referred to were real opportunities. It wasn’t like they were “five-a-side tap-ins at the back post”, of the type that City scored so much of over the two title-winning seasons.
This perhaps marks the biggest difference of all. The ideal of Guardiola’s football is to outmanoeuvre opposition through possession to such an extent that they were eventually twisted inside out, the two wide players going in opposite directions to allow the easy cut-back.
We’re currently seeing none of that. It is so much sterile possession.
City just aren’t doing what made them so good.
They may be trying the same principles, but it isn’t with the same intensity, which means it only goes so far. Their lack of energy marked another grand contrast with Spurs. Mourinho rightfully spoke after the game about the “desire” of his players.
There is currently full buy-in from his squad.
Everything looks good - not least the play, and the table.
It was Mourinho who preached caution about this. “Lose one and your mid-table.”
A reality of Mourinho’s management over recent years has also been that everything is fine when they’re on form, but that things can go disproportionately wrong when off form - partly because of the lack of a modern attacking system. They don’t have the same principles to fall back on. It remains to be seen how this team will react when they encounter problems, when they run into massed backlines.
That, however, is now a challenge to relish. Things certainly look much brighter for Spurs than City. They look so much more dangerous going forward. It is only one team that seems desperate for goals from one primary striker - that needs a signing to solve problems.
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