Manchester City win back-to-back Premier League titles after surviving early Brighton scare
Manchester City win back-to-back Premier League titles after surviving early Brighton scare
They did not play Oasis’s Champagne Supernova at the end – instead it was Wonderwall – but this has been a Premier League title race of explosive, intoxicating brightness and it has finally ended with Manchester City as champions. What a stellar performance.

Noel Gallagher was here, smiling broadly amid the celebrations and later dancing around the trophy in the away dressing room, as City captain Vincent Kompany swigged champagne while the rest of us may raise a glass to their achievement and that of a brilliant Liverpool to run them so incredibly close.

For 21 minutes of Sunday afternoon, if the results stood as they were, then Liverpool would have won their first title for 29 years. It has been tiny margins throughout, millimetres over the goal-line, or not, at the Etihad and Turf Moor as the technology proved, for two giants of football who have finished miles ahead of the rest. And so it ended with just a single point separating them and Liverpool losing only one game all season and somehow finishing second. That somehow is City.

Between them these two fine teams have amassed 195 points, the first time two sides have passed 90 points in a season, with City finishing on top with 98. Remarkable and, for Liverpool, cruel. City finished with a 14th successive league victory – no team has ever ended with that perfect sequence in top-flight history – and that in itself is extraordinary.

“We knew for two months we could not lose a point,” Guardiola said and he was right except, actually, it was more than three months with no margin for error and often playing after Liverpool as the lead changed time and again. He has the resources but, wow, he also the resolve.

It was therefore right that this epic title contest felt like it was settled by a wonderful goal, the third one, that cleared the City bench in celebration, with Pep Guardiola punching the air as his anxiety finally flooded away and he knew it was won.

The goal was scored by Riyad Mahrez, City’s record signing at £60 million but a disappointing, bit-part player this campaign, but he dumped Lewis Dunk on his backside with one of those trademark check-backs of his and struck a fierce right-footed shot from the edge of the penalty area that goalkeeper Mat Ryan got a hand to but could not prevent from flying past him and high into the net.

It meant that for the final 27 minutes and for the first time this gruelling season City could relax and drink it all in before they headed back north for more drinks and a homecoming party at the Etihad and after that there is an FA Cup final against Watford on Saturday to prepare for and the prospect of completing an unprecedented domestic treble.

This is their fourth league title in eight seasons and, in winning it, City became the first team to retain the crown since Manchester United in 2009 which means much to Guardiola who is well aware of that record and – especially in a season when the Champions League has again eluded them – was determined to match it.

The fourth goal ran Mahrez’s close. There was wave after wave of pressure, with City unrelenting, before a free-kick was earned by Raheem Sterling. It was more than 25 yards out and Ilkay Gundogan stood over it before bending a powerful free-kick that arced high over the Brighton wall before dipping to beat the despairing dive to his left of Ryan.

And so it was, as it has been throughout – champagne football underlined by a ferocious work ethic and a formidable squad – that determined the result.

There had been a sobering jolt in the first-half, though, when City fell behind not long after Liverpool had gone in front at Anfield. For precisely 83 seconds in fact there was the prospect of City’s world being turned on its head by a header and it was such a poor goal to concede as the old warhorse Glenn Murray stole in at the near post to firmly meet a Pascal Gross corner with his forehead and open the scoring.

The striker was unmarked, except for the token presence of Oleksandr Zinchenko, with Guardiola later conceding that one weakness of this City side is the fact it is still packed with diddymen and may need a bit more height. But it was one of those, the sublime, 5ft 6in David Silva, who created the equaliser as he collected a pass fired into him inside the area by Aymeric Laporte and had the vision and the skill to immediately flick it into the path of Sergio Aguero who applied the low, first-time finish through Ryan’s legs. Not quite as dramatic as the Aguero – or Aguerooooo – moment in 2012 but still pretty timely as it meant there was no chance of City panicking.

The Brighton goal felt like the wake-up call, the slap across the face, the dousing in cold water that City needed because before that they had struggled to create anything and once more appeared nervous – which is again testimony of how hard Liverpool have pushed them after last season’s procession.

Murray’s next involvement was far less impressive as he allowed Laporte to run free from a corner, swung in by Sterling, and plant a downward header from six yards out that span up off the pitch to beat Ryan and claim the lead.

Right on half-time there was a warning to City, however. It appeared Anthony Knockaert would take a free-kick, conceded by Kompany, but instead Dunk almost caught out Ederson with a well-struck 25-yard shot that the goalkeeper just about pushed out.

So there was no margin and it was clear in the way City went about the second-half that they intended to increase their advantage and end any doubt. Mahrez’s goal achieved that with Gundogan’s strike merely adding further confirmation.

It also allowed Guardiola to run through his substitutions – while Brighton gave a heartfelt send-off to their 38-year-old captain Bruno who is leaving the club. Kompany was also withdrawn and like Bruno was afforded a standing ovation. Was this his final league game for City with his current contract running out next month?

That can wait. Kompany was soon back on, soon leading those celebrations, reacting wildly as his name was finally read out and the trophy placed in his hands as Guardiola watched on, the tension dissipated, his body relaxing. This title race was finally run. “They did a great season,” he later said of Liverpool, adding: “But we did a little bit better.” And that little bit made a big difference.

  • source : BBC NEWS