LONDON: Manchester City are guaranteed Premier League champions after pursuing neighbours United lost, remarkably, by 1-0 at home to relegation-bound bottom club West Bromwich Albion writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
Albion had won only one previous away game, at Burnley all the way back in August but they deserved their success at an Old Trafford which was abandoned by thousands of United fans long before the final whistle.
A 73rd-minute headed goal from Jay Rodriguez sent United spiralling to defeat and gifted the title to the blue side of Manchester though City will not be the most popular winners of the English league title. They garner none of the excited passion which greeted Leicester’s unlikely success under Claudio Ranieri in 2016 or, further back, the applause for Arsenal’s stylish triumphs in Arsene Wenger’s early days.
Instead they must be satisfied with the title status of a Chelsea and Manchester United, celebrated by their own fans but merely acknowledged by the rest because of their outlandish financial power.
They have played superbly from start to (almost) finish, losing only two of 33 games, scoring 93 goals while conceding just 25 for a goal difference of 68 and winning the title with five games to spare.
Manager Pep Guardiola will long harbour regrets about the manner of City’s European exit to Liverpool but winning the Premier League was always his priority.
When Guardiola arrived at City in 2016 his critics cavilled that he had ‘had it easy’ at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, dominant teams far superior to almost all their domestic rivals. The doubters appeared to be vindicated last season when Guardiola, for the first time in his top-flight career, ended without a single trophy.
City, financed by the mega-rich ruling family of Abu Dhabi, had waited a long time to land Guardiola. Neither could not afford another blank season. Thus the Premier League was the ultimate test for Guardiola and his team.
The club spent €240m last summer strengthening the squad but it was two men already there – midfielders Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva – who provided the key to domination of both every individual match and of the league. City also toughened up not only physically but mentally – prepared to work harder, ready to concede a yellow card if necessary to break up play.
Winning the Premier title ranks, for Guardiola, as one of his most outstanding achievements. He said: “It’s more difficult to win in England because of the physicality, the weather conditions, the amount of games. The Premier League is so, so tough. Winning titles in every league is important, with Barcelona was special. But the Premier League is one of the nicest and most important.”
In the Premier League era United have won 13 championships and Chelsea five ahead of Arsenal and City on three each and, of course, there has been carping from beyond the blue side of Manchester.
Ryan Giggs, an old United hero and now Wales manager, said: “To compare City to ourselves, Arsenal and Chelsea, you have to win multiple titles. You have to be consistent, not just the one wonder season which they are having.”
To achieve that end City will continue spending this summer. Guardiola has complained publicly that his squad is too thin for the pressures of a four-competition season. Even before Saturday’s 3:1 win against Tottenham he was complaining that “we only have 14 players and the kids available.”
City put themselves in a title-winning position by winning 3-1 against Tottenham at Wembley though 6-1 would not have flattered them against a fourth-placed but lacklustre Spurs side whose minds appeared to be focused not on the immediate challenge but on Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final against the other Manchester team, from United.
Leroy Sane hit a post in the third minute before City took command with two goals in three minutes by Gabriel Jesus and by an Ilkay Gundogan penalty after Raheem Sterling was tripped by keeper Hugo Lloris. Christian Eriksen reduced the deficit just before half-time with a fortunate ricochet but Sterling ended Spurs’ 14-game unbeaten run midway through the second half.