If you’re going to win a league title, you might as well add a bit of drama.
Manchester City did exactly that when producing a simply stunning comeback to beat Aston Villa 3-2 and win the English Premier League on Sunday.
The host knew a win on the final day of the season would guarantee the title and, despite going 2-0 down, it scored three goals in five second-half minutes to send the Etihad Stadium into delirium.
Fans, many of whom had their heads in their hands for much of the game, ran onto the pitch at full-time to celebrate winning a title race like no other.
While players ran to the tunnel, City supporters danced on the pitch and even broke one of the goals as a spine-tingling rendition of the club’s famous anthem, Blue Moon, filled the air.
Eventually stewards ushered people off the pitch allowing City players to reemerge and parade the trophy in front of an adoring, if not exhausted, crowd.
City’s Ukrainian defender Oleksandr Zinchenko was particularly emotional on the lap of honor. The 25-year-old was in tears as he wrapped the trophy in his country’s flag, paying tribute to those suffering through the war.
As the season was coming to its conclusion, City manager Pep Guardiola said that “the most difficult serve in tennis is the one you have to serve to be champion.”
It was an analogy that couldn’t have proved more fitting on a rollercoaster afternoon in Manchester.
Goals from Matty Cash and former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho looked to have stolen the title from City’s grasp, but Guardiola has assembled a very special side.
While many teams may have wilted under the pressure, City kept pushing and got its reward – with two goals from Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri securing a fourth league title in five years.
It’s an achievement made all the more impressive by the quality of Liverpool, which battled tooth and nail with City throughout the entire season. Its win against Wolves on Sunday proved academic in the end.
City’s victory comes 10 years after Sergio Aguero opened the floodgates to a decade of success at Manchester City, scoring a last-gasp goal on the final day of the season to win his side the league title.
And, minus a goal in the final seconds, this title victory was almost as dramatic, with supporters witnessing the entire spectrum of emotion.
“We are legends,” Guardiola told Sky Sports after the breathtaking match. “When you win the Premier League in this country four times in five seasons it is because these guys are so, so special. We will be remembered.”
A range of emotions
Fans seemed confident of their team replicating such success before kick-off with chants about Liverpool losing and City winning the title filling the air outside the stadium
There was a party atmosphere to boot, with DJs encouraging supporters to sing Oasis songs as they made their way to their seats.
But as the game kicked off, the excitement turned to nerves as the home fans became agitated every time Aston Villa enjoyed a passage of possession.
The anxiety eased temporarily as news of Liverpool going behind against Wolves reverberated around the ground but grew again as City, notably Gabriel Jesus, squandered some early chances and Liverpool equalized.
The frustration turned to anger as Villa went two goals up prompting many in blue to look to the skies for some kind of intervention.
The title that so many had expected City to win was slipping away.
But it’s not like this City side to go down without a fight, and it took matters in its own hands.
Belief grew after Gundogan scored the first in the 76th minute and, in a blink of an eye, Rodri had leveled the scores. With fans still celebrating, Gundogan struck again in the 81st to cap off one of the most chaotic passages of play in Premier League history.
Gerrard’s mission failed
There was an added element of drama to Sunday’s match, with City’s opponents having certain allegiances to its title rivals.
Villa manager Steven Gerrard is a Liverpool legend but failed to win the league title during his tenure at the club.
He came close, of course, but his infamous slip seven years ago contributed to his side throwing away the title that season.
Fast forward to now, and the script was almost too perfect from a Liverpool point of view.
Knowing he needed to take something from the match to help his boyhood club overtake City, Gerrard stalked the sidelines of the Etihad like a double agent sent from Anfield.
He barked instructions to ex-Liverpool player Coutinho who looked to probe City’s defense and deliver a present to his former club.
Gerrard was kicking every ball from the touchline as his players dug in resolutely against the increasing pressure from City.
Eventually, Villa’s defense buckled and the floodgates opened.
In truth, no one can begrudge City the title.
While Liverpool produced a more rock and roll style of football, City blew teams away time and time again and showed a consistency which rightly crowned them champions of the league again.
Meanwhile Tottenham Hotspur beat Norwich City 5-0 at Carrow Road to secure fourth place and a place in next season’s Champions League tournament.
Burnley were relegated after losing 2-1 defeat at home to Newcastle United.