They do not do things by halves, this football club. Not on the last day of the season. Not with the title at stake.
Pep Guardiola called it, a week in advance. ‘If we don’t win, Liverpool will take the league,’ he predicted. And he was right.
Liverpool did their part, coming from behind to beat Wolves 3-1. Steven Gerrard did his part, too, his Aston Villa seizing a two goal lead at the Etihad Stadium and frightening the bejesus out of the locals. And Manchester City? They looked to have blown it, again. For 75 minutes they turned in arguably their poorest performance of the season, certainly at home.
After the crushing disappointment against Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final, they were on course to become the first team to surrender the title, having led the table on the final day.
Ilkay Gundogan came off the bench to score a dramatic late brace and fire Manchester City to the Premier League title
The German midfielder tapped home at the back post in a second half cameo that will go down in living memory for the hosts
Pep Guardiola celebrates after Gundogan scored the dramatic winning goal in a stunning five minute burst from his side
City’s substitutes including Jack Grealish run from the bench after seeing their side clinch the Premier League title
City boss Pep Guardiola kisses the Premier League trophy having held off Liverpool to win the title on the last day of season
On his final appearance for the club after nine years, skipper Fernandinho lifts Manchester City’s eighth top flight title aloft
And then, arguably, the greatest comeback of them all. Greater than that Aguero moment? Probably, yes, because the road back was so much harder. Queens Park Rangers were down to ten men that day, and already safe from relegation. They were a poor team, though. Villa, by contrast, are dangerous, certainly on the break. They are coached and peopled with former Liverpool legends, who would have been fielding hopes and prayers from Merseyside all week. And they were ahead by two goals.
One of the red legends had seen to that. Philippe Coutinho turning Aymeric Laporte inside out, after Ollie Watkins had beaten Rodri to a big goal-kick. Coutinho shot low past Ederson and the title looked as if it was slipping from their grasp. There were 21 minutes to go. With the games as they stood, City needed three goals, if Liverpool so much as scored one. And they were always going to score at least one. In the end, they got two.
So Guardiola’s prediction held true. City had to win. But they weren’t playing like winners, let alone champions. They weren’t playing like City at all really.
Gundogan came off the bench to head a goal back for City with 14 minutes to play following an inviting Raheem Sterling cross
Ollie Watkins looks on as Gundogan runs the ball back to the centre-circle looking for a quick restart in their title bid
Just two minutes later Rodri grabbed a dramatic equaliser with a low strike from the edge of the box for the home side
The midfielder celebrates his goal as City suddenly burst into life having grabbed two late goals at the Etihad Stadium
Jubilant Manchester City fans invaded the pitch at full-time lighting flares and breaking a crossbar in celebration
As City fans celebrated their success on the pitch, players and staff from both sides headed down the tunnel to safety
Some supporters brought on a beach ball to kick on the pitch following Manchester City’s fourth league title win in five years
Stewards and police heavily guard the entrance to the players’ tunnel at the Etihad Stadium as City fans celebrate the win
Kevin de Bruyne celebrates winning the Premier League title inside the City changing room along with team-mates and staff
MATCH FACTS, AND FINAL LEAGUE TABLE
Man City (4-3-3):
Ederson, Stones, Fernandinho (Zinchenko 46), Laporte, Joao Cancelo, De Bruyne, Rodri, Bernardo Silva (Gundogan 68), Mahrez (Sterling 56), Gabriel Jesus, Foden.
Subs not used: Walker, Ake, Grealish, Carson, Palmer, McAtee.
Goals: Gundogan 76, 81, Rodri 78
Aston Villa (4-3-2-1):
Olsen, Cash, Chambers, Mings, Digne, McGinn, Douglas Luiz, Ramsey (Ings 83), Buendia (Youngs 88), Coutinho (Nakamba 72), Watkins.
Subs: Sanson, Traore,, Chukwuemeka, Sinisalo, Chrisene, Iroegbunam.
Goals: Cash 37, Coutinho 69.
Booked: Mings, Nakamba
Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland)
- Premier League
- Premier League
- League One
- League Two
- Scottish Premiership
- Scottish Div 1
- Scottish Div 2
- Scottish Div 3
- Ligue 1
- Serie A
- La Liga
And then, it was as if a switch had been flicked. As if, with 15 minutes remaining, City suddenly woke up to the looming calamity. A season without trophies. A Liverpool quadruple. Gundogan had been introduced for Bernardo Silva a minute before Coutinho scored. It seemed this worst possible timing and on what will probably be his final game for the club, too. But Gundogan will not leave a loser. Gundogan will leave a legend.
He made the miracle happen. Not alone, obviously. But he scored the chances others had been missing. And he did it quick, too, because time was of the essence. Incredibly, City scored three to win, the game and the title. Incredibly, City scored three in the space of six minutes, having not looked like they had a goal in them for the preceding 76. Incredibly, City came back from 2-0 down for the first time since February 28, 2005 against Norwich. They were a different club, back then. Not long out of the third tier. In the squad: Joey Barton, Ben Thatcher, Richard Dunne. They came eighth and were highly delighted with it. Nobody had ever heard of Sheikh Mansour.
So this was a remarkable comeback. Truly remarkable. The last man to affect City like this on the final day of the season now has a statue outside the ground. Maybe Gundogan will get one beside him one day. He scored two of the goals, the first and last. All were important, but Gundogan started the ball rolling, and then kept it rolling until City had won the league.
Matty Cash stunned City on the final day after giving Villa the lead in the 37th minute as he celebrates in front of the away fans
Cash attacked the penalty area to head home after getting on the end of a cross from Villa team-mate Lucas Digne
Philippe Coutinho doubled the visitors’ lead to leave the defending Premier League champions stunned in the second half
The former Liverpool playmaker celebrates his goal as City defenders stand dejected in the background at the Etihad
The first came after 76 minutes. Raheem Sterling, like Gundogan a second-half substitute, delivered something City had been missing all game: a good, early cross. Too often they had pussy-footed, delayed, searching for the perfect pass. Sometimes perfection is simply catching the opposition before they get a chance to organise. Villa had been organised all game. They had defended brilliantly, in fact. Yet Sterling put them under pressure. He crossed from the right and Gundogan met it with his head at the far post. A muttering, nervous silence had been the score for much of this game, but the goal replaced that soundtrack with roars. Just three minutes later, City were level.
Rodri is supposed to be City’s defensive rock in midfield, but Guardiola’s style asks everybody to deliver as an attacking threat, no matter their position. When the ball was fed to Rodri, outside the area, he as good as side-footed it into the net past stand-in Villa goalkeeper Robin Olsen from 20 yards. This may be why Guardiola feels no pressing need to enter the bidding for Declan Rice.
Yet, still, City remained vulnerable. They had a point, Liverpool had a point. If Liverpool turned that to three, the title was theirs. If City found a third, Liverpool could score ten and it still wouldn’t matter. And so, with eight minutes remaining, the biggest goal of City’s season.
City came out attacking at the start of the second half as Kevin de Bruyne volleys a shot over the Villa crossbar
Moments later Gabriel Jesus on the stretch failed to connect with a cross at the back post in an attempt to bring City level
Ederson was unable to keep out Cash’s effort as frustration grew among the home fans following a poor first half for their side
City players Rodri (left), Joao Cancelo (centre) and Aymeric Laporte look on after falling behind against Aston Villa
Credit Kevin De Bruyne here. He didn’t stop believing. It wasn’t his finest game, but he never stopped driving for the win. He spied that Villa didn’t have the ball under control in their area and gave his last drop of energy to win it. Having done so, he then saw Gundogan lurking again at the far post. His cross begged for the simplest conversion and Gundogan delivered it. This was the football City had failed to play until it was almost too late. Clinical, straightforward, technically excellent. This was the football of champions. Where were they, for so long?
In disguise, it seemed. For the second match in succession, City had been required to come from two goals down to stay on course. Remember that advert for Anadin? Tense, nervous headache? There wouldn’t have been a pill big enough to cure Manchester City’s ills at half-time. As for Guardiola, a straitjacket couldn’t have contained him. When have we seen City play like this? West Ham last week? That was different. City were lousy for 45 minutes. Unrecognisable, really. This was tangibly City, but almost a lite version. They dominated possession as usual, but with none of the recognisable certainty. They tried moves that were alien to them. Long range pot shots, unnecessarily difficult passes. They tried too hard, whilst lacking the usual zip.
Maybe they heard the news of the early Wolves goal at Anfield and became convinced of the inevitability of the win. Maybe they were nervous, rattled by the thought of going home with nothing as Liverpool won everything. Who knows why good teams go bad like this? And City were rotten in the first-half, no doubting that.
Ollie Watkins missed an excellent opportunity to give Villa a 2-0 lead on the day as his lofted shot over Ederson bounced wide
Guardiola gives instructions to his team during a frustrating first half for his side as City players look on at the Etihad
Aston Villa boss Steven Gerrard greets Manchester City counterpart Pep Guardiola before the game at the Etihad Stadium
Given the standards they have set it couldn’t be argued that Aston Villa weren’t good for their lead. It wasn’t as if they dominated. More, they defended expertly and took the best chance they created. City didn’t have an effort on target in the first 45 minutes; incredible given the circumstances, and at home.
So, approaching half-time, the mood was edgy. Joao Cancelo and Fernandinho, in particular, were struggling defensively and Villa were looking dangerous on the counter. After 37 minutes, those worst fears were confirmed. A great carry through the middle by Jacob Ramsey saw the ball passed wide to Lucas Digne, and his cross was struck perfectly for Matty Cash, arriving with great timing at the far post and getting in front of Cancelo. It could have been worse, too, had Watkins not overrun a one on one chance shortly before half-time. Guardiola had seen enough by then. Fernandinho was removed at half-time, replaced by Oleksandr Zinchenko. From there things began to change.
‘Typical City,’ said a fan, when it was over. But it wasn’t typical. It was marvellous. The team, the game, the whole season really. It was the perfect finale, nothing less.