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Intense Drama Defines Final Day As Manchester City Wins Another Premier League Title

A wild Matchday 38 in England’s top flight ended how it started: with the defending champions atop the table for the fourth time in five seasons.

This was the ninth time a Premier League title race had gone down to the final day of the season, and the ninth time the team that started on top had won. But if that makes Manchester City’s eighth league title sound straightforward, it was not. This was a final day of shredded nerves and high anxiety, even if there was never actually a point when Liverpool was top in the as-it-stands table. In the end, three City goals in five second-half minutes transformed everything.

The drama began at Anfield after two minutes as Pedro Neto capitalized on an Ibrahima Konaté error to give Wolves the lead. It felt then as though this could be an anticlimactic afternoon. But Liverpool soon equalized through Sadio Mané and then came the goal that electrified Anfield—Matty Cash heading Aston Villa ahead at the Etihad. Could it be that, as Aston Villa manager, Steven Gerrard might at last win Liverpool the league title that had always eluded him as a player?

When another ex-Liverpool star, Philippe Coutinho, added a second after 69 minutes, that possibility suddenly seemed very real. Liverpool, it seemed, had 21 minutes to score. It was not, in truth, playing well. Anxiety had gripped its performance from the start. With Virgil van Dijk injured—although on the bench, suggesting he may be available for next week’s Champions League final—the back line looked shaky, never quite sure when to push up. But worse was the passing. There was a frantic quality to Liverpool’s play, exacerbated by the loss of Thiago Alcântara to injury on the stroke of halftime. Shots were blocked and through-balls misplaced.

And then, just as the thought began to crystalize that Liverpool might not find a winner, that it might let City off the hook, the City comeback began. Villa, having defended so stoutly, capitulated. This wasn’t quite an Agüero 2012 moment, but the bang-bang-bang of goals, two from İlkay Gündoğan and one from Rodri, was dramatic enough.

Ilkay Gundogan celebrates his goal for Man City

At Anfield, the mood fell. Did Liverpool know that the title had slipped out of reach? Mohamed Salah’s reaction as he scuffed in a corner suggested not, but the fans knew and the celebrations were muted. Andy Robertson made it 3–1 but the goal Liverpool needed, against City, did not come.

And so City won its fourth league title in five years. Given how strong this Liverpool is, that is a remarkable achievement. Of course, it is a success rooted on the spending of the state of Abu Dhabi, and by the incredible work of City’s commercial team in making it the richest club by revenue in the world thanks to a number of lucrative sponsorship deals from UAE-based companies, but plenty of clubs have had extreme resources before and used them poorly.

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Nobody scored more than City this season, nobody conceded fewer and nobody won more games. Judged purely on footballing merit, nobody can doubt that it is a worthy champion—as Liverpool would have been. Only once before—Liverpool in 2019—has a team got more than the 92 points Liverpool amassed this season and failed to win the title. Even given the financial iniquities within the game, the standards City and Liverpool are reaching are extraordinary.

The irony is that the prize City really wants is the one that continues to elude it, the Champions League, while Liverpool yearns for the Premier League, its only league success in the past 32 years having come in 2020 when fans were still locked out of stadiums because of COVID-19. Neither would give up what they have, but you suspect both, given the option, would willingly swap: Liverpool to parade the Premier League trophy around Anfield and City to travel to Paris for another crack at Real Madrid in the Champions League final next Saturday.

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The thought of that game underwrote everything Liverpool did on Sunday. The team selection was cautious, protecting those with knocks, at least until Salah had to be introduced as Liverpool chased the game. The good news is that he and van Dijk should be fit for next Saturday, but doubts remain over Fabinho and, now, Thiago.

That is for next week, though. For now, the day belonged to City. There are those who are left cold by the aesthetics of how a Pep Guardiola side controls games, but its effectiveness is clear. This City is one of the finest sides in English league history, and that it is constantly battling with this Liverpool only magnifies its achievements.

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