Son Heung-min strikes late to give Tottenham edge over Manchester City
Son Heung-min may have struck a wonderful late winner to hand Tottenham a crucial first-leg victory over Manchester City in the Champions League quarterfinal on Tuesday, but the gloss was taken off an otherwise perfect evening as the host lost Harry Kane to injury.
The home fans held their breathe as Kane, who has scored 24 goals this season, limped off down the tunnel after rolling his ankle awkwardly under a challenge from Fabian Delph, knowing just how important the England international is for their hopes of success this season.
“It’s a worry for us,” Tottenham manager Pochettino said after the game. “We are going to miss him — maybe for the rest of the season.
“We hope it is not a big issue but there is not too much time to recover. He twisted his ankle so we will see how it reacts in a few hours.”
Worryingly for Spurs, Kane was forced to miss almost two months of action earlier in the season after sustaining ligament damage on the same ankle.
But if there can be a silver lining for Tottenham it’s that Son seems to thrive in Kane’s absence. In the five weeks the striker missed through injury at the start of 2019, the South Korean scored four goals in as many games.
Upon Kane’s return to the starting XI, Son had managed just one goal in seven games going into Tuesday’s match. It then took him just 20 minutes from Kane hobbling off the score the winner.
Before Tuesday’s clash against Manchester City, Tottenham’s long-serving defender Jan Vertonghen, now in his seventh year in north London, said the opportunity to move into a new stadium comes only “once in a generation” for players and fans.
Though the move was intended to usher in a new era and help Spurs take its place at European football’s top table, the Belgian urged supporters to be patient, reminding them the team “need time to build history” in its new $1.3 billion home.
Had this first-leg been at Wembley — the national stadium which, at times, made for an uncomfortable temporary home for Spurs — few would have given Pochettino’s side a chance against City.
Tottenham had failed to beat Guardiola’s team in its previous four meetings, losing three of those, and City was on an indomitable run of 22 wins from 23 matches.
But Tuesday’s game felt special. The fans sensed it, too, creating a deafening, near-constant noise in the lead-up to kick off — and the players responded.
Although last Wednesday’s homecoming victory against Crystal Palace was an historic moment for the club — “a truly emotional evening,” as manager Pochettino described it — the match against City offered Spurs the opportunity to prove it could truly make this new house a home.
Strange City XI
Tottenham’s attacking trio of Kane, Son and Dele Alli was rabid from the first whistle, not allowing City’s defenders to rest for a moment.
It was the latter who would create the first chance of the match, winning the ball back in midfield and playing it wide to Moussa Sissoko.
The Frenchman returned the pass, lofting the ball into the box for Alli to run onto. His connection was crisp but the ball fizzed over Ederson’s crossbar.
For all its experience at the top level, City appeared nervous. Much was made of its inability to deal with the pressure at Anfield at this same stage last season, finishing that match on the wrong end of a 3-0 humbling.
Despite the cacophony of noise inside the stadium, you could almost hear the collective sound of 120,000 eyebrows being raised as Manchester City’s lineup was announced.
There was only a place on the bench for star midfielders Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sane, while Bernardo Silva — arguably’s City’s best player this season — was left out entirely.
In came Riyad Mahrez, much maligned when called upon this season, and the lesser-spotted Delph, filling in for Benjamin Mendy at left back.
But with 10 minutes on the clock, and with City having barely left its half, the visiting side was gifted a route into the match.
In his first foray forward, Raheem Sterling jinked and weaved his way inside onto his right foot and struck at goal, only to be denied by a last-ditch block by Danny Rose.
Referee Bjorn Kuipers initially pointed for a corner, before the video assistant referee advised him to view the pitch-side monitor for a potential stray hand from the English left back.
The Dutch official needed to watch merely two replays to change his decision and award what was a clear penalty.
Unable to watch the same replays Kuipers had, the Spurs supporters were incensed with the decision and the sound of 60,000 simultaneous boos rumbled through the stadium.
Up stepped Sergio Aguero, faced not only by Hugo Lloris in the Tottenham goal but also the vast, imposing single-tier stand at the south end of the stadium.
Modeled on the stand which houses Borussia Dortmund’s famous ‘Yellow Wall,’ the 17,500 fans erupted as Lloris guessed the right way and palmed away Aguero’s tame penalty.
It would prove to be City’s only real chance in a match which, from then on, looked like Tottenham’s to win. From Lloris’ save, six white shirts broke forward and descended onto Ederson’s goal.
By the end of the move, City had desperately hauled 10 of its 11 players back into the box to defend, something which would become a running theme.
The half-time whistle drew a deafening roar from the home fans, who sensed this night could be different.
This was only the second time in their history that Tottenham had reached this stage of the Champions League, last time being comprehensively beaten by Real Madrid.
Having never previously reached the semifinals, Spurs felt it was its place for the taking.
With barely 10 minutes left on the clock, Son feinted his way past Delph and drilled a low shot through Ederson in the City goal.
If anyone thought the noise inside had the stadium had been raucous previously, the fans hit new decibels celebrating the South Korean’s goal.
“As a team, we never give up,” Son told BT Sport after the match. “We fought for 90 minutes. We were more clinical than them and deserved to win.
“I like this stadium — it’s amazing to play here and I’m really, really grateful for the opportunity.”
Though Pochettino and Co. will wait anxiously for the results of Kane’s scan ahead of the second-leg in eight days time, Tottenham can, for tonight at least, celebrate a victory that makes this daunting stadium feel a little more like home.
Liverpool stroll to win
Elsewhere in the Champions League, Liverpool took a commanding lead in its quarterfinal against Porto.
Naby Keita set the host on its way with an early goal after five minutes before Roberto Firmino doubled the lead before half-time.
The Reds were simply too strong for the Portuguese outfit and are now on the verge of a consecutive Champions League semifinal.