KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- After 275 days and 370 matches, it’s all over and the outcome was the same: Manchester City were champions again, the first club to win successive titles since neighbours United in 2008 and 2009.
Now one last challenge remains – to become the first club ever to win the treble of league, FA Cup and League Cup. Only Watford stand between Pep Guardiola and history at Wembley next Saturday evening.
The last day of the Premier League saw the real trophy sent to Brighton, where City won 4-1 to clinch the sixth title in their history. A replica were sent to Anfield just in case City fell at the last fence and the title went to Liverpool.
In the end City won and held aloft the real trophy as was their due as real champions. Liverpool had run them remarkably closely, even winning simultaneously on the last day by 2-0 at home to Wolves.
However while City have all the attributes – manager, deep squad, money – to win yet again next season the task may not even be as awkward. It is doubtful whether Liverpool can repeat their wonderful campaign and the likes of Chelsea (third), Tottenham (fourth) and Arsenal (fifth) remain far below City’s all-round strength.
Indeed, City have it within their power to become as dominant a force as were Sir Alex Ferguson’s United between 1993 and 2013 when they won 13 domestic Leagues.
Ambition continues to burns deep within his players. Hence Guardola did not expect to need any inspirational team talk at the Amex Stadium behind telling his players: “Guys, go out and play.”
Failure at this stage would have been out of character. In the last two seasons City have seized 198 points from a possible 228 won 19 domestic cup games out of 20. Their nerve almost never fails, except of course when it comes to the Champions League.
Victory over Brighton was their 15th successive win in the Premier League despite the stress of having played many more games than Liverpool in all competitions: 60 to 52 since they won the FA Community Shield on penalties against Chelsea at the start of the season last August.
Their second half campaign was astounding: since Boxing Day City played 19, won 18 and lost one. They deserved their ultimate reward.
City dominated the opening phase on the South Coast but had a shock after 27 minutes, shortly after Sadio Mane had put Liverpool ahead. That was when Brighton took the lead totally against the run of play. Centre-forward Glenn Murray stretched out ahead of keeper Ederson to head the Seagulls in front in virtually their first attack.
City needed only 83 seconds to hit back through Sergio Aguero. Eight more minutes and Aymeric Laporte headed home from a right-wing corner; 37 minutes gone and City were back on top of the table.
Liverpool now needed Brighton to come to their aid. City, relieved to be back in front, played the ball around comfortably in midfield and took the heat out of the game. The half ended with Ederson pushing a Lewis Dunk free kick over the bar and City holding the advantage.
Brighton had not scored twice at home in the league this year. They attacked from the start of the second half to try to change that. Central defender Dunk headed over the bar from a free kick then Pascal Gross forced a sharp save from Ederson.
At the other Ilkay Gundogan had a shot blocked in a goalmouth scramble and then, as City ramped up the pace, Riyad Mahrez fired City into a 3:1 lead. Mahrez had been overlooked by Guardiola for the past three matches. Now, suddenly, he was the man of the moment.
The goal set City fans singing: “Champions! Champions!” even before Gundogan curled home a fourth goal from a free kick. Up at Anfield Mane scored a second goal but for Liverpool, in title terms, it was all in vain.