Vincent Kompany is known for his clutch goals for Manchester City, but not quite like this. For all of City's talent, skill and philosophy, it took one moment of magic from its elder statesman and captain to put the title back on the doorstep of the Etihad.
Liverpool, perhaps, was just beginning to believe. Only 20 minutes remained. Manchester City was beginning to grow anxious. It seemed Leicester City might hold on, that Brendan Rodgers, the Leicester manager, might have his revenge on Manchester City and deliver to Liverpool the title he came so close to winning in 2014. But then Vincent Kompany stepped forward, and kept stepping forward as Leicester backed off, and, from 25 yards, unleashed a ferocious shot that swerved into the top corner. With one unlikely, majestic strike, the title is again Man City's to lose.
Still, neither of the top two sides has dropped a point since March 3. Man City hasn’t dropped a point since January, and that means that it will go into the final game of the season knowing that a win away at Brighton will mean it retains the league title for the first time in its history. The proximity of the finish line can do strange things to a side–and City will remember how close it came to losing to relegated QPR on the final day when it won the title in 2012–but Liverpool’s hopes realistically are slender now. It has to beat Wolverhampton Wanderers and hope–but even it knows that this was the last significant test for Pep Guardiola’s side.
There were nerves Monday, as there had been against Tottenham a couple of weeks prior. Man City may have won 13 Premier League games in a row, but it is not playing with the fluency of January. It is, though, controlling games. Monday's 1-0 win marked three clean sheets in a row, and the club has just conceded two goals in its last 12 league games. As far as it is possible to do so, in the league at least, City has taken the element of chance out of the game.
It has specialized recently in early goals, but there wasn’t one here, and as the minutes ticked by, the Etihad became increasingly anxious. There was a clear sense–from the crowd if not the players–that Mike Dean, the referee, was giving City nothing, although there were no obvious errors. Leicester played well, not just defending impressively but offering a threat on the break, offering sufficient resistance that every spell it had possession drew whistles and jeers.
City’s players, meanwhile, while looking as implacable as ever, struggled to create clear chances. When one finally came, after 31 minutes, Sergio Aguero’s header hit the underside of the bar, bounced down, and was clawed away by Kasper Schmeichel.
When Schmeichel made a remarkable reflex block to deny Aguero again just after the hour, there was perhaps a thought that today was the day when it would never go in.
Enter Kompany, and his first goal from outside the box.
City hasn’t won a game with a result-changing goal in the final 10 minutes of the game (whereas Liverpool has scored five winners and an equalizer in the final 10 minutes of games). Its latest game-changing goal came from Leroy Sane against Liverpool, after 72 minutes. This was the second-latest City has taken the lead this season–and it was a stunning goal.
There is a theory that City’s greatest strength, the way it is impeccably drilled, can become a weakness, that when things begin to go wrong, the mechanism cannot cope because the level of subservience required to the system erodes the sort of individuality that can grab a game and yank it in the right direction almost by force of will. City at times, like other Guardiola sides, has seemed to lack leadership. But Kompany is a leader, on and off the pitch. He scored the header against Manchester United three games from the end of 2011-12 that shifted that title race in City’s favor. His goal here may not be considered quite as vital in the history of the club as that one, but it might be just as important in terms of winning a title. Sometimes, for all the talk of systems and philosophies, there is still need for a big personality to take control.
Once the goal had gone in, the tension almost visibly left the stadium. There were still nervy moments for Man City fans to endure, most notably when the former City player Kelechi Iheanacho, having come off the bench for Leicester, ran clear after a poor clearance from Ederson but dragged his shot wide.
Win at Brighton, a side safe and secure in 17th place, and the title is City’s yet again, no matter if Liverpool gets to a point total good for third best in Premier League history. Surely, after 13 straight wins, Guardiola’s side won’t slip up now.