It was a result not inside the Etihad Stadium but a few miles across Manchester that confirmed the Premier League title was reclaimed on Tuesday. Second-placed Manchester United losing 2-1 to Leicester City at Old Trafford left Manchester City with an unassailable 10-point lead with three games remaining.
While United started the century by dominating English football, City is now the force with five league titles in 10 seasons. Within minutes of the final whistle blowing at Old Trafford — after Caglar Soyuncu’s 66th-minute header sealed the Leicester win that ended United’s hopes of catching City — a “Champions” banner was unfurled over the Etihad entrance.
Soon, fans were setting off blue flares and parading small replica Premier League trophies. They will finally be allowed back into the stadium — up to 10,000 of them — to see City collect the trophy after its final game of the PL season against Everton on May 23.
But, it will not be the first trophy they will see City lift this season, with a fourth successive League Cup won in front of around 2,000 spectators at Wembley last month. And, they could yet be allowed to witness the club contesting its first Champions League final against Chelsea on May 29.
“We have missed the fans so much,” said City captain Fernandinho. “We wanted to do this for them. We will enjoy the moment and we hope the fans do too. Rest assured we will continue to do everything we can to bring the Champions League home.” Ending Liverpool’s reign as champion gives Pep Guardiola a third PL title in four seasons, adding to the trio of domestic crowns he won at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich as manager.
“This has been a season and a Premier League title like no other — this was the hardest one,” said 50-year-old Guardiola.
“To come through this season — with all the restrictions and difficulties we have faced — and show the consistency we have is remarkable. It is relentless. Every single day, they are there, fighting for success, trying to be better. They have been so, so resilient,” added Guardiola.
In a congested pandemic-impacted season that stretched the resources of all the teams, City was eight points from the lead in November, languishing in 11th place after eight games. But Guardiola turned City’s campaign around in stunning fashion, embarking on a 28-match unbeaten run in all competitions after losing at Tottenham Hotspur in November.
The champion team has conceded the fewest goals in the league — 26 — thanks to the resurgence of English centre-back John Stones, who has been partnered mostly by summer signing Ruben Dias. City has also scored the most goals — 72 — even by playing without a recognised striker in many matches.
Now seven-time champion of England, City still has a long way to go to overhaul United’s record of 20 titles. Its neighbour hasn’t won the league, though, since Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.