It was the ninth time that the Premier League title race had come down to the last day of the season, and the ninth time the team that started from the top had won. But if that makes Manchester City’s eighth league title seem easy, it isn’t. It was the last day of frayed nerves and great anxiety, although there has never really been a moment when Liverpool topped the current table. After all, City’s three goals in five minutes in the second half changed everything.
The drama began at Anfield two minutes later, when Pedro Neto capitalized on Ibrahima Konate’s mistake to give Wolves the lead. Then it seemed that it might be a disappointing day. But Liverpool equalized soon after thanks to Sadio Mane, followed by a goal that electrified Anfield as Matty Cash put Aston Villa ahead at the Etihad. Could it be that Steven Gerrard, as Aston Villa manager, can finally win Liverpool the league title that has always eluded him as a player?
When fellow ex-Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho added a second in the 69th minute, the possibility suddenly seemed very real. It looked like Liverpool had 21 minutes to score. In truth, the game was not very good. Anxiety gripped his performance from the very beginning. With an injured Virgil van Dijk, albeit on the bench, suggesting he could be available for next week’s Champions League final, the back line looked shaky, never knowing when to push. But the passage was worse. There was an insane quality to Liverpool’s game, exacerbated by the loss of Thiago Alcantara to injury at half-time. The shots were blocked and the through passes were misplaced.
And then, just as the idea began to crystallize that Liverpool might not find a winner, that it might let City off the hook, City came back. Villa, so staunchly defending himself, capitulated. It wasn’t quite the same moment as in Aguero 2012, but the shots of goals, two goals from Ilkay Gundogan and one from Rodri, were quite dramatic.
At Anfield, the mood dropped. Did Liverpool know the title was slipping away from them? Mohamed Salah’s reaction as he fumbled in the corner suggested otherwise, but the fans knew and the celebration was muted. Andy Robertson made it 3–1 but failed to score the goal Liverpool needed against City.
This is how City won their fourth league title in five years. Considering how strong this Liverpool is, this is a remarkable achievement. Of course, it is a success built on spending by the State of Abu Dhabi and the incredible work of City’s commercial team, which has made it the richest club by revenue in the world thanks to a series of lucrative sponsorship deals with the UAE-based club. companies, but many clubs used to have extreme resources and used them poorly.
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No one has scored more than City this season, no one has conceded fewer goals and no one has won more games. Judged solely by football qualities, no one can doubt that this is a worthy champion – as Liverpool would be. Only once – Liverpool in 2019 – did the team exceed the 92 points scored by Liverpool this season and fail to win the title. Even with the financial inequities in the game, the standards that City and Liverpool achieve are extraordinary.
The irony is that the prize that City really want is the one that keeps eluding them, the Champions League, while Liverpool craves the Premier League, its only league success in the past 32 years has come for 2020 when fans were still locked out. stadiums due to COVID-19. Neither of them would give up what they have, but you suspect that both, given the opportunity, would willingly switch places: Liverpool will carry the Premier League trophy around Anfield, and City will travel to Paris to play Real Madrid again in the Champions League final next Saturday.
The thought of this game supported everything Liverpool did on Sunday. Team selection was cautious, protecting those with knockouts at least until Salah had to be introduced as Liverpool chased the game. The good news is that he and van Dijk should be ready by next Saturday, but doubts remain about Fabinho and now Thiago.
But that’s next week. For now, the day belonged to the City. There are those who will be left cold by the aesthetic of how Pep Guardiola’s team controls games, but his effectiveness is clear. This city is one of the best teams in the history of the English league, and the fact that they are constantly struggling with this Liverpool only increases their achievements.
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