MANCHESTER: Two years ago Manchester City needed the last kick of the very last match to snatch the Premier League title. This time they needed ‘only’ the last match to grab the crown back from collapsing neighbours United.
Only Liverpool, in the most unlikely of circumstances, could have overtaken them but the progress of City’s 2-0 win over West Ham and Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat of Newcastle meant that was never a possibility.
Samir Nasri and skipper Vincent Kompany struck either side of half-time to hand City a decisive two-goal lead while out-of-form Liverpool struggled against Newcastle. They even handed Newcastle a first half lead with a Martin Skrtel own goal before Daniel Agger and Daniel Sturridge struck back against visitors who had Shola Ameobi and Paul Dummett sent off.
City’s success was a popular reward for the calm and reasoned approach of Manuel Pellegrini who thus ended his debut English season with two trophies out of a possible four, having already secured the League Cup back in March.
Pellegrini, for all his decade in European football, had not won a league title since the Clausura with River Plate in Argentina in 2003. He made mistakes along the way, in underestimating the qualities of his defenders and then in group stage mathematics in the Champions League.
His dignity and restraint, however, have been a welcome relief after the outbursts of paranoia which afflict Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho and, to a lesser extent, Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger. More, the tactical and technical stability he has instilled at City have brought palpable progress on the pitch and in the dressingroom after the turbulent times of Roberto Mancini.
“They are a very special group,” said Pellegrini amid all the celebrations. “We always played as a big team, a winning team. It was important to have two titles in the year – and on Tuesday we start working for next season.”
City’s precision, in winning a fourth championship (after 1937, 1968 and 2012) was revealed in the simple statistics.
Arsenal had led the league for 128 days this season and City for only 16 but these 16 were the most important. City also managed 102 goals compared with 66 last season whle Yaya Touré scored 14 goals from open play, the joint highest for a central midfielder in the Premier era.
The only cloud on City’s horizon is the clash with UEFA over Financial Fair Play.
City are the only one of the remaining ‘naughty nine’ not to have agreed a settlement on sanctions. They have until today to decide whether to accept a £49m fine plus 21-player squad restriction next season or appeal, perhaps all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Even that concern, however, will be set aside as the players embark of a celebratory open-top bus tour of Manchester city centre tomorrow.
Liverpool’s consolation for their late collapse is a return to the Champions League after five seasons while Chelsea join them in the group stage finished third after winning 2-1 at Cardiff with perhaps Fernando Torres’s last goal for the Blues. This is the first time manager Jose Mourinho has finished as low as third since his first season with Porto in 2002.
Behind Chelsea Arsenal will be returning to the Champions League draw for the 17th consecutive season; the Gunners had been sure of finishing fourth even before their 2-0 win at doomed Norwich.
Changes are inevitable ahead of next season. Wenger may wave goodbye to Bacary Sagna, Lukasz Fabianski and Nicklas Bendtner on contract expirations while Lukas Podolski and Thomas Vermaelen may want to think over their futures after a season in which neither has been a first choice.
Fans want to see manager Arsene Wenger make more signings, particularly in attack, of the status of Mesut Ozil. Without such further investment Arsenal have no hope of making up distance on next season on the new champions.
North London neighbours Tottenham clinched the second secure Europa League spot by finishing sixth ahead of Manchester United after a disappointing season for both clubs.
Spurs, keen on luring Mauricio Pocchettino as manager next season in place of caretaker Tim Sherwood, had no problems securing the single point they needed at home to Aston Villa.
Brazil World Cup midfielder Paulinho set them on the way to an easy 3-0 win. Furious Villa fans jeered their own players and manager Paul Lambert after a Nathan Blake own goal and Emmanuel Adebayor penalty punished a desperately poor performance.
As for United, they ended their season with a 1-1 draw Southampton in Ryan Giggs’s last game as interim manager. Giggs, who expects Louis Van Gaal to be confirmed as new manager, hopes to stay on at Old Trafford with a view to succeeding the Dutchman, eventually.
The need for continuity is crucial because United need to be busy in the transfer market even while Van Gaal is at the World Cup with Holland. Skipper Nemanja Vidic will leave for Internazionale though veteran defensive partner Rio Ferdinand has hinted he wants to stay on for at least one more season.
At the foot of the table Norwich’s home defeat to Arsenal confirmed their relegation along with Fulham and bottom club Cardiff. Arsenal were untroubled even without the rested Per Mertesacker.
** Richard Scudamore,chief executive of the Premier League who presented the trophy and medals to Manchester City’s players, has issued a formal apology over remarks in “inappropriate” emails that were leaked to a Sunday newspaper by his former PA.
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