MANCHESTER, England -- A title race broke out at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday evening and although this one won't involve Harry Kane, the England striker got a glimpse of what might be possible at Tottenham under Antonio Conte.
Kane's 95th-minute winner sealed a thrilling 3-2 win over Manchester City, after City had leveled in the 92nd minute from a penalty awarded by VAR. In the end, Kane's goal was celebrated with the same vigour on Merseyside as it was in the away end; Liverpool's victory over Norwich earlier Saturday means they are six points behind Pep Guardiola's side with a game in hand.
There's life in this Premier League season yet, and Kane more than anyone was responsible for providing it, with two goals during an outstanding performance against the club who were so keen to sign him in the summer. It was the type of individual display that justified Daniel Levy's £150 million valuation, but it will also give Conte hope that if the 28-year-old can be persuaded to stay, Tottenham can be challenging City and Liverpool this time next year.
The flip side, though, is that if there was ever a game to persuade City to bid big for Kane again in the summer, it was this one. "He's one of our own," sang the jubilant Spurs fans after the final whistle. The question is, for how long?
It was remarkable they had the energy to sing anything at all after more than 100 breathless minutes, which culminated in a chaotic finale. With Tottenham leading 2-1 when the fourth official's board went up to show seven extra minutes, Riyad Mahrez first scored an equaliser from the penalty spot after VAR Lee Mason helped referee Anthony Taylor spot that Cristian Romero had handled Bernardo Silva's cross. It looked likely at that point that Spurs would crumble, but moments later Dejan Kulusevski, who scored the opening goal inside the first five minutes in his first start since arriving from Juventus in January, escaped down the right and crossed for Kane to head past Ederson.
It was Kane at his best, the Premier League at its best and maybe, just maybe, the first flickers of a title race to match the intensity and drama served up here.
"We didn't need to lose a game already to know how hard it is [to win the title]," said a visibly annoyed Guardiola afterward. "Tottenham have a lot of quality, they give the ball to Harry Kane. They are really good up front.
"In the first half, they have the goal and no more. In the second half, they have one attack with Harry Kane at the start and they score. They are clinical. Everyone knows what Kane gives. It's not necessary [for Kane] to show it today. The goals he scored and the quality with the ball, [everyone in] the U.K. knows it."
Kane's performance culminated in City's first league defeat since Oct. 30, ending a run of 43 points from a possible 45.
"There is a long way to go [in the title race]. If we didn't know before, we know now," said Ilkay Gundogan, who scored City's first equaliser midway through the first half after a mistake from Hugo Lloris. "Now we've got to work hard over the next couple of weeks."
If Liverpool do manage to overhaul City at the top of the table, Feb. 19, 2020 will go down as a pivotal day. Jurgen Klopp's team had to fight back from a goal down to beat Norwich 3-1 at Anfield, while City were twice level against Tottenham, but still ended up with nothing. If Liverpool win their game in hand, they would be three points behind City ahead of their trip to the Etihad on Apr. 9. Strap yourselves in.
For now though, Conte is only interested in the race for fourth and his result -- his best since taking the job -- after a run of three straight league defeats. Conte was still playing for Juventus the last time Spurs lost four in a row in the Premier League. His team, led by Kane and the vibrant Heung-Min Son, were so good on the break that by the second half, Guardiola had his head in his hands every time a cluster of white shirts raced across the halfway line.
"We followed a plan," Conte said. "Manchester City would keep the possession for 65 to 70 minutes of the game so we needed to be good tactically. But even when defending, our first thought should be to attack, and this win will give us more confidence. It wasn't simple to play Manchester City after three losses in a row.
"Harry is for sure an important player for us. Today our strikers played very well. Only one win is not good enough. Don't forget we are coming off three losses. But a win against Manchester City is very good. We have a lot of space for improvement."
It was a result that will fuel Conte's belief that, with better players to slot in around Kane and Son, he can follow through on his ambition to take Tottenham to the top of the table. For now, though, he will settle for denting City's hopes of staying there.