EPL

Manchester City v Tottenham: Guardiola should give up on Kane – it's Son who could make them near perfect

By Sports Desk February 18, 2022

It took just two games of the 2021-22 season for Manchester City's failed pursuit of Harry Kane to become a big problem for Pep Guardiola.

After losing the Community Shield to Leicester City, they promptly went to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and lost 1-0 again, even with Kane absent and City boasting Premier League record signing Jack Grealish.

The narrative arc was glaring: City would fall short without a recognised number nine, while Spurs were neither dependent on Kane nor foolhardy to snub the chance of a huge transfer fee. Perhaps he could realise his dream of big trophies in north London after all.

Six months on, and the world has come to its senses. Since losing to Spurs, City have won 20 and lost just one of their Premier League matches and look to be marching imperiously towards the title again. Spurs have changed manager, swapping one the fans never really wanted for one who gives a good impression he would rather be anywhere else, and are enduring a three-game losing run that has put their Champions League hopes in jeopardy.

And nobody is really talking about Kane, except to wonder what's going wrong.

It's beginning to look like City dodged a nine-figure bullet by not pursuing their interest. Kane has just five goals and two assists in 21 league games this season, his minutes-per-goal rate of 358.4 more than twice as bad as at any other time in his career, while his expected goals tally of 8.99 is the lowest since he played just 10 times in 2013-14.

Part of that problem can be attributed to Kane's role under Nuno Espirito Santo and now Antonio Conte. His link-up play is still effective: he is creating on average one chance per 90 minutes, slightly down on his career average in the Premier League, but averaging more passes played into the box (3.1) than he ever has.

Similarly, he is top among Spurs players for involvements in open-play sequences ending in a shot (98) – even when you remove the 52 where Kane's only contribution was the shot, he still ranks as high as fifth (46). In other words, he remains key to both getting them on the front foot and testing the opposition's goalkeeper.

Yet ultimately, Kane will be judged on goal involvements, which makes this season a distinct disappointment. Whether he was affected by City's failed pursuit, or a hangover from England's Euro 2020 final defeat – or a combination of both – it's hard to make a case for this Kane to be the missing link for Guardiola's City. And that's especially true when you consider just what Guardiola wants in his forwards: the ability to play in any position across the attack, rather than become pinioned in the number-nine role. It's why he saw fit to spend £100million on Grealish, why Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robert Lewandowski and Sergio Aguero have each faced battles to keep their places in his teams, and why any move for Erling Haaland is no guarantee.

It also makes you wonder why City did not turn their attentions to the man who scored the winner in that game at Spurs last August, and who has six goals in eight matches against them.

Son Heung-min would appear, on the face of it, an ideal Guardiola player. He has proved himself adept out wide, as a number 10 and as a central striker for Spurs, hitting double figures for goals and assists for two league seasons running – don't rule out him repeating the feat again.

With nine goals and three assists, Son leads the way for direct goal involvements for Spurs in this season's difficult Premier League campaign. He has also created the most chances (36), playing 144 passes into the box, which is almost double the number of any team-mate (this includes set-pieces, of course). Son also boasts the best shot conversion rate (18.8) among players with more than one goal, while Kane's is down at just seven per cent.

The South Korea star is second only to Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg when it comes to involvements in Spurs' build-up play in the top flight this season, 35 of which have ended in a shot on goal. And when he doesn't have the ball, Son remains adept at winning it back: he has won possession the most among Spurs attackers (89), with 11 of those gains occurring in the opposition's defensive third.

Adaptable, hard-working and clinical are words that could be ascribed to any of City's forwards, and Son fits right in that same group. Should Spurs fail to qualify for the Champions League again, they may be forced to make some concessions in the transfer market, especially if they want to satisfy Conte's demands while keeping costs down. Son has just over three years on his contract and does not appear likely to agitate for a move, but, ahead of his 30th birthday in July, the next window could represent his final opportunity for a major transfer.

If anyone in a Spurs shirt is likely to impress City officials on Saturday, it's Son.

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