Man City win Premier League title: 'Even by their standards, this was a remarkable season climax'

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
Manchester City were losing 2-0 to Aston Villa with 15 minutes left and, as it turned out, needed all three of the goals they scored in the closing stages to win the Premier League

Pep Guardiola marched through a guard of honour wearing a Manchester City T-shirt before pumping his fists to the skies and turning to take the adulation of an ecstatic Etihad Stadium.

He was beaming broadly as he celebrated his fourth title in five seasons - but this barely told the tale of what Manchester City's manager, players and fans had put themselves through to reach their goal.

Less than an hour earlier, Guardiola had broken down in tears at the final whistle following one of the most incredible comebacks any club has ever pulled off to win the Premier League.

The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss was shedding tears of joy. For much of this nerve-shredding, spectacular afternoon it looked like they might be tears of despair.

‘We feel legends’ - Guardiola delighted with title win

Manchester City were handed a straightforward task to retain their crown. They had to beat Aston Villa - one more home win in an outstanding league season.

There was one serious problem when this potential storyline was scripted.

Manchester City do not do routine. Straightforward is a stranger to them. Give them a mile and quite often they will take an inch. History should have told us this would not be as simple as logic suggested.

And so it proved as City, lethargic and lacking in inspiration, found themselves 2-0 down to Villa with 15 minutes left.

Thirty-five miles away at Anfield, Liverpool were drawing 1-1 with Wolves so all was not lost - but the smart money was on the Reds scoring again in front of the Kop and winning, which they eventually did.

Guardiola's frantic touchline body language underlined the scale of the task at hand. City had to score three times in those final 15 minutes or they would end the season without a trophy - an undeniable failure for a team and manager of such talents.

The twists in the tale were obvious.

Pep Guardiola has won nine major trophies in five years at Manchester City - but for a long time against Aston Villa a fourth Premier League title seemed to be slipping away

Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard was helping Liverpool win the one major prize he was unable to win himself at Anfield, his own title tales of woe epitomised by his infamous slip against Chelsea in April 2014 that allowed Manchester City to spirit the title away at the last gasp.

The fact that another Liverpool old boy, Philippe Coutinho, had scored the goal that looked like it might finish City's title ambitions only added to the drama.

And then it happened. A comeback and title win that was thrilling and unlikely even by Manchester City's standards.

The club recently unveiled a statue to Sergio Aguero, the striker who scored the famous last-day goal against Queens Park Rangers after 93 minutes and 20 seconds that gave them their first title in 44 years on goal difference over Manchester United a decade ago.

Sunday's victory, many might argue, was an even bigger challenge to complete than that day in May 2012 because they faced a superior, fiercely well-organised and dangerous Villa, who looked in complete control.

Etihad Stadium was stunned. This was supposed to be a day of celebration, more than adequate compensation for losing a Champions League semi-final they had in their grasp against Real Madrid.

Not a bit of it.

There was an eerie silence moments after Coutinho struck. City feared the worst but somehow summoned up the character and quality to win a title in circumstances that were dramatic even by their own standards.

Ilkay Gundogan was only on the pitch for 22 minutes but scored two goals - the second proving the title-winning goal

The pain of losing their crown would have been even more acute given they had a 14-point advantage over Liverpool on 15 January, only to be stalked every inch of the way by Jurgen Klopp's side.

What City had stored away was the knowledge of how they edged out Manchester United on the last day of the 2011-12 season, won their last home game to finish above Liverpool in 2013-14 and beat Brighton to fight off Liverpool by a point in 2018-19.

They are battle-hardened in the unique pressures of the Premier League's final day.

Indeed, it almost looked like muscle memory dragging them off their feet for a five-minute spell that brought those three decisive goals and will be remembered forever by every City fan who experienced it.

Guardiola has made many substitutions in his illustrious career but he will recall few more fondly than the second-half introduction of Ilkay Gundogan.

First, the German lifted the gloom with a far-post header after 76 minutes. Rodri raised the anticipation levels with an equaliser two minutes later and there was almost a sense of inevitability about Gundogan's winner, slid home at the far post from Kevin de Bruyne's cross with nine minutes left.

Guardiola will have known deep down only victory would do here. He implored City's fans to take to the streets to welcome the team, which they did, and he rammed home his message via programme notes which ended with the words: "Don't forget it. LOUD. LOUD. LOUD."

And it was loud, loud, loud when referee Michael Oliver sounded the final whistle to release an outpouring of emotion and relief, especially from City's manager.

Not all of the emotion coursing round the Etihad was to be applauded. Sadly, in what appears to be turning into an increasingly dangerous trend, Villa keeper Robin Olsen was assaulted in a pitch invasion after the final whistle, City swiftly issuing an apology and launching an investigation.

As the strains of Oasis' 'Don't Look Back In Anger' rang around the ground, City bade farewell to 37-year-old Fernandinho after nine successful years at the club, the Brazilian tossed in the air by team-mates while being sprayed with champagne.

Ukrainian defender Oleksandr Zinchenko, an outstanding substitute here and a man who has had to cope with so much with the Russians invading his homeland, was also overcome by emotion amid the triumph and was comforted by colleagues.

And before that, a crossbar at one of the end stadium drooped, broken in the middle as the celebrations raged, re-enacting that famous scene when Scotland's fans flooded Wembley in 1977.

Manchester City have conjured up some incredible Premier League finales, often stretching believability to breaking point, and this may just have topped the lot.

Guardiola's side are deserved champions once more - but this simple phrase will not even touch the sides when history recalls the story of five remarkable minutes on an astonishing day at Etihad Stadium.

Top Stories

Elsewhere on the BBC