Sunday’s final of the Premier League season, and the ridiculously close title race it finally concluded, was shocking and thrilling, full of twists and turns along the way. It was also, in a way, familiar. Three years ago, Manchester City overcame a final day deficit to come back and beat Liverpool to the Premier League title in spectacular fashion. Yesterday Manchester City overcame an even bigger deficit on the final day to come back and beat Liverpool for the Premier League title in even more dramatic fashion. Once again, tension turned to happiness for City fans, hope turned to disappointment for Liverpool supporters, while everyone got to enjoy the sensational end to this wild ride .
Despite trailing Aston Villa by two goals 75 minutes into the final game of the season on Sunday, City came back to life and glory, scoring three goals in around five minutes to claim a 3-2 victory, which earned the club their fourth title of champion. at the time of Pep Guardiola. At no point on Sunday were Man City actually behind Liverpool in the table, although it did look like the defending champions had blown it for a while there. Aston Villa took the lead via a Matty Cash header in the 37th minute which increased the pressure on the Citizens. After former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho added a second Villa goal in the 69th minute, it felt like we were witnessing a historic meltdown in the making:
At the time of Coutinho’s goal, a roar at Anfield signaled to Liverpool players that there was a chance. If City were in the danger zone, Liverpool were squarely in the hopes sector: an early Wolverhampton Wanderers goal put the Reds on the back foot, but the hosts slowly regained control of the game. Sadio Mané scored the equalizer after a magnificent 24th-minute flick from Thiago, but Liverpool had to win and hope that at worst Villa would hold out against City.
Yet despite having possession and a shooting advantage over Wolves, Liverpool couldn’t break through during a tense second half that kept fans one eye on the pitch and one on their phones. It wasn’t until the 84th minute that Liverpool got the nod, via a mess in the penalty area and a punch from Mohamed Salah:
But Salah’s goal came too late. Perhaps if Liverpool had taken the lead over Wolves as Manchester City lost again to Villa, the pressure on the Citizens might have been too much to overcome. Instead, Salah scored after City had already made a successful comeback, and that was it. History didn’t just repeat itself for Liverpool; the reenactment was even worse. Thanks to an abysmal defense and goalkeeping from Aston Villa, City were able to do to their opponents – and Liverpool by proxy – what Real Madrid did to City in the Champions League semi-finals.
It started and ended with Ilkay Gundogan. The midfielder came on as a substitute in the 68th minute and got to work, giving City more bite in the penalty area than they had in a more listless opening hour. First, Gundogan got the end of a completely unmarked Raheem Sterling cross to the back post for City’s opener. Then fellow substitute Oleksandr Zinchenko found Rodri high in the box and the Spanish midfielder slotted the ball into the goal. Finally, Gundogan found himself at the same back post as the first goal, and a wonderful low cross from Kevin De Bruyne found the German for the match and title winner:
It’s not as breathtaking as his famous comeback in 2012, in which City scored twice in stoppage time to steal the title from Manchester United, but it’s close. What City did between the 76th and 81st minute on Sunday was a hyper-compressed example of what they’ve been doing all season: they’ve lit up the jets, shown they’ve got more talent than almost anyone and overwhelmed an exhausted opponent. No one in the world can score as many goals in quick succession as City, so their season coming down to one last flurry is a fitting end to another title chase.
If there’s any comfort to be had for Liverpool, it’s that they’ve already ended the Premier League title drought in the COVID-stricken 2019-20 season; Surely, this one doesn’t hurt nearly as much as 2019 for that reason alone. Like this season, Liverpool also have a Champions League final to look forward to in order to ease some of that domestic pain, but this time they have the chance to complete a cup treble, having already won the league cups. League and FA.
With that in mind, Liverpool’s main concern – beyond the need to mentally overcome this Premier League shortcoming – will be the health of Thiago, who picked up an injury in the first half against Wolves. The club will likely need their No.6 against a Real Madrid forged in the Champions League fires, and the six-day gap between games here will be of no use to the Spain international. Still, Liverpool have the chance to shake off their current disappointment, which City would have missed if they had crumbled.
That’s not the case, however, and it’s a deserved title for City in a season that got the end it deserved as well. These two clubs can’t really escape, having won the last five titles between them, twice with a point difference between them. It remains to be seen whether City will return to their most dominant wins next year with the addition of Erling Haaland, especially as Liverpool will be charging as they always do; the addition of the very cool and good Luis Díaz in January was the first step. I can’t promise the Premier League will be played out again next season, but I wouldn’t bet against it either. The margins between Manchester City and Liverpool are too thin to believe otherwise.
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