Manchester City may wonder if they were pursuing the wrong Tottenham forward. The champions’ defence of their title got off to a false start on a day when Harry Kane was neither used nor needed by Spurs.
Wherever his future lies, they have a gem of an attacker in Son Heung-min. The South Korean has signed a new contract, led the line in the absence of Kane, deemed not fit to feature, and reprised his regular role as the scourge of City.
His seventh goal against them, and fourth in as many home matches, was enough. City still have not scored at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and, following on from Champions League final and Community Shield setbacks, suffered a third successive 1-0 defeat, either side of the summer break.
This was not how they envisaged their season starting, and not merely because Ferran Torres, rather than Kane, was their main striker. Yet it was a wonderful afternoon for Nuno Espirito Santo.
Spurs’ summer has felt traumatic at times. Their managerial search took on farcical proportions and there could be no pretence that Nuno was anything remotely resembling first choice.
Perhaps, like Rafa Benitez at Everton, he needed the endorsement of an early win more than most. He got it, and in impressive fashion. Apart from a shambolic start, when City were dominant and twice ought to have scored, his gameplan paid off.
Tottenham defended valiantly and counter-attacked quickly. Nuno had secured a memorable victory against City with Wolves and he repeated the feat with his new club.
Another newcomer has had a less auspicious beginning. Following a cameo at Wembley, Jack Grealish made a maiden start for City. He was typically prominent and it would be harsh to fault him for the result, but it was another loss.
Indeed, Grealish, who operated in the central midfield trio, provided an immediate reminder of one of his greatest attributes. His dribbling wins free kicks and Oliver Skipp brought him down, with Grealish falling in the box but the offence outside it.
And City’s attacks were concentrated on their left where Grealish and Raheem Sterling formed a promising partnership, though Japhet Tanganga proved a formidable opponent. Riyad Mahrez miscued a shot from one Sterling cross. Emerging unchecked in the inside-left channel, Grealish drilled a shot at Hugo Lloris as City searched for an equaliser but their golden chances came early.
Two of their more defensive personnel could have scored in the first six minutes. Fernandinho headed wide of an unguarded goal when Lloris unwisely left his line and then Joao Cancelo hooked a shot past the far post.
Yet Tottenham improved swiftly after those initial alarms. Neither side mustered a shot on target in the first half but Spurs showed pace on the break. Ilkay Gundogan, City’s top scorer last season, turned goal-saver, materialising on the line to block Lucas Moura’s volley when Ederson was out of position.
Son almost curled Spurs into the lead, Cancelo getting a crucial deflection, before he actually did. Steven Bergwijn, whose Spurs career began with a goal against City, could have added another but shot into the side netting. The irrepressible Son nearly got a second of his own with an effort on the turn.
Lucas and Bergwijn flanked Son, giving Spurs three quick wingers. They have one sole senior specialist striker. “Are you watching, Harry Kane?” their fans ended up asking as Tottenham found a way to play without him. Nor did they require new signing Bryan Gil, who stayed on the bench.
City, meanwhile, were far from their strongest. Pep Guardiola brought Sterling and Ederson back after their international exertions but a defence with a makeshift feel had some awkward moments.
Kevin de Bruyne made a faster-than-expected return for the last 12 minutes while Gabriel Jesus was also summoned in their search for a leveller, with Grealish moving to the left flank. But his involvement ended with a caution for fouling Lucas. It summed up City’s day.