MANCHESTER -- Here was a taste of what might have been, served up in devastating fashion by Harry Kane. Two goals, the second coming midway through injury time and moments after Manchester City's second equaliser, inflicted a first Premier League defeat on Pep Guardiola's side since mid-October. A 3-2 win for Tottenham has breathed new life into both the title race and the top four. Suddenly the reigning champions procession towards yet more silverware has hit a speed bump.
Even after Liverpool's win City hold a six point advantage at the top of the table albeit having played a game more. Their destiny is in their hands no less than it is in Jurgen Klopp's. Spurs still have ground to make up from seventh. But here was the moment where the clouds that had been gathering over Antonio Conte's side parted, and an outstanding Kane inspiring yet another thrilling victory for Tottenham, who are fast becoming the champions' bogey team.
Spurs' preparations might have been disrupted first by their manager's much-debated comments to Italian media and then by Storm Eunice (which forced them to change a brief flight into a lengthy bus journey), but a week on the training ground is manna from heaven for Conte. His side knew how they would beat City: packing the center of the pitch, inviting both full backs to advance into the space they had deliberately vacated. When they won the ball back they would blitz those spaces, now occupied by Heung-min Son and Dejan Kulusevski.
Three minutes in and Conte's approach was rewarded. Harry Kane dropped into midfield to receive a Ben Davies pass, immediately flicking it around his right shoulder to find Son accelerating away from Ruben Dias. The Spurs No.7 is a devastating finisher off both feet but instinctively knew that his chances of beating Ederson were not as high as Dejan Kulusevski's, who had only Joao Cancelo between him and an open goal. At the right moment Son squared, Spurs' full debutant rolled the ball through his opponent's legs.
Of course this approach would only work so often; these counters had to click together perfectly to create a shooting chance. Even one heavy touch and Kyle Walker would eat up the ground or Dias would make a move-breaking tackle. Crucially for Tottenham it paid off just frequently enough.
At the other end, City were circling awkwardly around what might be their best football. There were spells where they proved utterly devastating. Joao Cancelo threatened down the left, ending the first half with double Tottenham's two shots. A dazzling feint from the left back took him between Emerson Royal and Pierre-Emile Hojberg, his shot bending just wide of Hugo Lloris' far post.
Spurs simply could not quell the pressure coming down the right from City right in the first half. Soon after Cancelo's miss, Sterling darted into the box, teeing up Ilkay Gundogan to ratchet a shot against the post. On the left Ryan Sessegnon was at least going out to meet his man, across the pitch Emerson and Hojberg were too willing to drop back to their own penalty area without any semblance of pressure on the ball. There was a balance to be struck, one that was not apparent when Sterling, under no pressure whatsoever, bent a dangerous cross to the edge of the six yard box.
Lloris came out to claim it but ended up competing with Kevin De Bruyne for a ball bouncing right in front of him. On his 400th Spurs appearance he could only fumble the ball towards Gundogan, who slotted into the net. The Tottenham captain set the tone for what was a ragged end to the first half by his teammates, who would give away five yard passes in midfield with alarming frequency.
Pep Guardiola's men were not quite at their best either. They could still slice through the Tottenham backline on occasion but when De Bruyne and Sterling combined down the left Bernardo Silva could not quite convert the cutback, his boot seemingly getting stuck in the Etihad turf.
Yet as the home side's defensive line creeped forward in an attempt to constrict play to one third of the pitch, gaps opened up for Tottenham once more. Sessegnon picked up the pieces of an attack that looked like it had been quelled before Son found the seam between the City center backs, one being filled with remarkable speed by Kane. The man Guardiola so coveted last summer offered a timely reminder of what City were missing, opening his body to ease the ball into Ederson's bottom left corner.
Tonight was Kane at his very best, a complete performance of center forward play that took him from midfield creator one minute to poacher the next. He could have had a hat trick had VAR not spotted Kulusevski in an offside position in the 73rd minute. A team that is cruising to the Champions League quarter finals and leading the Premier League title race cannot be said to need any one player. However, as a Walker driven cross flashed along the six yard box with no one to meet it, one could not shake the sense they might have been better off with a true center forward lurking on the shoulders of the Tottenham defense rather than a cadre of creators playing in front of them.
City were throwing in too many crosses that were meat and drink for the Spurs defense. The center back trio in particular had been largely excellent for 90 minutes and there was cruel irony in the late Romero handball that seemed destined to cost Spurs a victory. Anthony Taylor's decision with VAR's aid was the right one -- the Argentine's hand was in an unnatural position by the laws of the game -- but tough on a player who had merely been hurling himself in the direction of Bernardo. Mahrez, the man who has begun to exorcise City's penalty demons, smashed the ball into the roof of the net.
No one in the stadium quite believed that that was that, but few saw the winner coming at Ederson's end. Once more, though, those spaces opened up where City full backs should have been. Bentancur spotted it. Kulusevski found himself with space and time to deliver. Kane drifted towards the back post, giving himself space to get the run on Walker and flick home. Immediately he was over to the visiting supporters. "He's one of our own," they cried. Had he not been this game might never have been won.