If it’s possible for an individual to play a perfect game in soccer, then surely Harry Kane’s performance against Manchester City on Saturday qualifies. Inside the stadium of the world’s best team, a team that itself regularly achieves perfection with its almost unfair depth of quality and its ruthlessly efficient and effective playing style, Kane stood alone as the match’s most decisive force. He moved, he passed, he shot, and he scored, at almost every moment doing the most dangerous thing possible, often inventing that danger out of whole cloth by himself. If that’s not perfection, then I don’t know what is.
Tottenham could not have gotten off to a better start on Saturday. Just four minutes in, Spurs already led the match after Son Heung-min teed up Dejan Kulusevski for an open-net goal. Though Son’s and Kulusevski’s names appear on the scoresheet as assister and scorer, the chance’s true creator was Kane.
That goal typified Tottenham’s approach throughout the match, which ended in a 3–2 win for the visitors. Upon receiving possession, Spurs sought out an open man who could bypass City’s relentless pressure. That open man, in this case Ben Davies, then quickly tried to get the ball into Kane’s feet, for Kane to do what he does better than any other striker in the world: dissect defenses with pinpoint passes to launch teammates into space.
It’s truly incredible how Kane is able to pass the ball when dropping off from the forward line. Often with his back to goal, with little time or space to think, Kane sprays balls like some kind of freakish striker version of Andrea Pirlo. The vision, technique, and timing required is unbelievable. By coupling Kane with the perfect partner, Son, who himself is one of the best in the game at reading and attacking open space, Tottenham guarantees itself a terrifying counter-attacking ability with just two players.
Son and Kane plagued Man City all game long. As always, City dominated the ball and put tremendous stress on the Spurs defense by parking the whole team right in front of Tottenham’s penalty area and practically never moving. City also pressed well after losing the ball, which limited the number of times Tottenham was able to escape its own third. Nevertheless, Spurs’ 5-4-1 defensive setup clogged the center of the pitch, which forced the Mancs to create mostly through defensible half-space crosses. And the times the Lily Whites were able to get free, there were Son and Kane—the latter of whom feasted on the considerable gaps at Rodri’s sides when Ilkay Gündoğan couldn’t fill them in time—to rip through the Sky Blues’ back line and set sights on Ederson’s goal.
Tottenham’s second goal looked a lot like its first. Kane once again exploited a gap between Rodri and Gündoğan to receive the ball in space, once again slung a gorgeous pass out to a motoring Son, and once Son was in possession he played another killer pass, this time to Kane who caught up with the move he started so that he could finish it too. Kane’s late game-winner, scored deep into stoppage time just a couple minutes after City knotted the score with a stoppage time goal of its own, was a more traditional striker’s goal, with him scrapping with a defender before raising up and heading in the decider. It was the perfect cap to a perfect display, Kane showing that he can excel even at the typical striker thing after 90 minutes playing the position in a way only he can.
One of the best things about soccer is its limitless possibilities. There are as many ways to play as the imagination can conjure, and each way has an image of victory or dominance all its own. City played well, had more than twice as much of the ball (71 percent), fired off more than three times as many shots (21 to seven), and easily could’ve gotten something from the match. In spite of that, the match looked exactly the way Tottenham wanted with City pressing but rarely threatening, and with Spurs biding its time to make the most out of its handful of chances. When Man City dominates, it often looks a lot like it did on Saturday. But Tottenham has Harry Kane, who is able to turn opposition dominance into Spurs victory, and that made all the difference.