MANCHESTER -- Antonio Conte saw his work turning Harry Kane into a "point of reference" pay off in the most emphatic of fashions as the Tottenham striker struck two goals and played a key role in the other in his side's remarkable 3-2 win over Manchester City.
Against the team who so coveted him in the summer, Kane delivered his best performance of the season. A smart through ball released Heung-min Son in the build-up to Dejan Kulusevski's opener before the England captain struck his first Premier League goal in a month, darting into the gap between the City center backs to volley home a Son cross.
City thought they had earned at least a point when Riyad Mahrez scored a late penalty but Kane had one final flourish to offer, rising at the back post to flick home Kulusevski's cross at the back post. Though this was by far the best performance of the 28-year-old's season, it also capped a notable improvement in form since Conte's appointment. In 13 league games under the Italian, he has scored six goals compared to one in nine under Nuno Espirito Santo. His expected goals per 90 minutes have increased from 0.24 to 0.65.
Even before managing Kane, Conte spoke about his belief that the Spurs striker was best deployed in the penalty area, that his instincts to involve himself in build-up play ought to be curbed somewhat to get the best out of him. His involvement in Tottenham's opener was a reminder that he does not need to operate in the penalty area to impact a game. His goals were a reminder of how effective he is within 18 yards of goal.
"Harry, for sure, you're talking about a world-class striker," Conte told CBS Sports. "He's working very well. He's improving on the physical aspect. I'm working with him to become a point of reference, to become more [of a] striker. Sometimes in the past he liked to go outside of the box to play. It's very good to do this.
"With Harry we are working a lot in many aspects. My aspiration, I repeat, is to arrive at the end of this season and see every single player improved after the work we are doing."
Spurs' win was all the more surprising coming in a run of three straight league defeats for Conte's side, who now find themselves firmly back in the mix for a top-four finish and Champions League qualification. Though they saw precious little of the ball at the Etihad Stadium an outstanding defensive display saw them restrict City to just four shots on target, albeit with a further 17 not hitting Hugo Lloris' goal.
"To win a game like this means we had a perfect performance," said Conte. "We were very good defensively ... We had a plan, for sure when you play against Manchester City you know the ball possession will be maybe 70 percent for them, but I always say to my players that when we're defending the target has to be to win the ball and attack.
"When we had possession, we moved the ball very well. The first goal was outstanding because we prepared this type of situation. This type of win has to give us confidence to trust in the work we are doing. We know very well that there are many, many games in front of us and we have to fight a lot to stay very close to the first positions."
Meanwhile, defeat for Pep Guardiola's side will be greeted with delight at Anfield with second placed Liverpool now six points off City with a game in hand. Goals have not been City's problem this season, but on Saturday they looked like a team who could have used Kane as they rained down crosses with precious little success.
Guardiola was keen to move on from any questions about what might have been if City had signed Kane -- "everybody knows he was never an option, let's stop" -- and instead pointed to the relatively limited chances Spurs created. The reality, as he acknowledged, is that when those attacks go through a world-class striker in this sort of form, they can often end in goals.
"Tottenham have a lot of quality, they give the ball to Harry Kane," said the Manchester City boss. "They are really good up front. In the first half they have the goal and no more. In the second half they have one attack with Harry Kane at the start and they score.
"We try to score but we conceded the goal in extra-time. It's difficult when they defend so deep. We had the chances to arrive and score. Unfortunately we cannot score. They are clinical. They have Kane and Son and Kulusevski. Their crosses we could not defend."