By the time the Manchester City players were showboating their way to confirmation of their sixth English title, it was remarkable to think there had been a rather long spell in this game where there was deep anxiety about how it would all end, to the point that Pep Guardiola was kissing Mikel Arteta when they finally got the lead. That said enough. That was enough.
City ended up more than holding their nerve with a 4-1 over Brighton and Hove Albion, to hold onto the lead in the table, and lift the Premier League trophy again. They won again, in every sense. A 14th successive victory, for the second greatest winning streak in history after their own from 2017-18, to clinch a second successive title.
The fact City become the first side to retain the title since 2009 was perhaps the most impressive part of their achievement given they faced a Liverpool side whose incredible push required such resolve, as they now go level with Chelsea and Sunderland as the sixth most successful club in English history.
Goalscorers Aymeric Laporte, Riyad Mahrez and Ilkay Gundogan will etch their names into City history along with the man responsible for that crucial equaliser, Sergio Aguero.
Liverpool’s title wait will now go on to at least 30 years, although there was an electric spell of this game where it seemed that might be ending, where the drama in this race really started.
That is why this very win was a display of will all of its own, even if the comfortable manner in which City finished ended up reflecting this run-in as a whole. There were just too many games where they were too good, too far ahead too early on, regardless of how late into the season Liverpool pushed them.
Not that it wold have felt like that in the first half. This, briefly, was when we finally got the drama everyone so craves on such climaxes.
The rarefied emotion of days like this is that it is not just an entire season weighing on individual moments, but also the wait for confirmation of developments elsewhere, making it all the more tortuous. Such complications ensure a nervous energy beyond any final, or any other type of match.
And that nervous energy was never more palpable than in that fraught and freighted spell between the 16th and 38th minutes.
City had already started the game a little stutteringly, with too much hesitation in everything they did, when news from Anfield put doubt on the end product of everything they’ve done in this entire league season.
Sadio Mane had put Liverpool ahead. City now had to score, but were in an oppressively tense passage of play when they seemed to be putting so many passes yards behind each other.
Worse, high-performing champions like Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva were among those most responsible. Guardiola was agitatedly rubbing his face.
The expression on that face only got more stern minutes later, as one of those errant passes led to a Brighton corner, and the breakthrough. Pascal Gross swung it in, and Glenn Murray headed it in. The striker’s touch was so light, but so potentially massive. It was the first time City had been behind in a game since their last defeat, to Newcastle United in January.
Except, the length of time that Brighton were in the lead was anything but massive. It was a mere 83 seconds, and it almost felt like City actually needed to go behind to get back in front at the top of the table. They needed to be shocked into action. Before then, it was as if they were thinking about everything too much, second-guessing every touch.
There was no second-guessing with that electric move that brought City’s equaliser. Gundogan slipped it through, David Silva flicked it on, and Aguero put it through Mat Ryan’s legs with one touch. A vintage striker’s finish, a vintage Guardiola goal.
Now more settled, City followed it with a vintage set-piece goal. There was still an edge to their game to this point, but it was difficult not to think Brighton had lost some of theirs. How else to explain Murray just standing there, as Laporte was able to jog unmarked from outside the box to so freely head the ball into the net past Ryan?
City had their crucial lead in the game to give them back their lead in the title race. They didn’t quite have any sense of comfort, but that wasn’t long coming. It also came from a relatively symbolic source.
Mahrez had been the player responsible for what could have been their most costly moment with that October penalty miss against Liverpool, but he instead represents the kind of costly alternative that points to the difference between the sides; that may have been the difference in the table. This is the type of mercurial talent City can draw on if a player like Kevin De Bruyne – who has missed so much of the season – is out. This is what Brighton ultimately couldn’t keep out.
Mahrez displayed his range of abilities, to emphasise City’s range of talent. The Algerian so deftly turned Lewis Dunk one to leave the defender going in the wrong direction and ultimately on the ground, before so powerfully smashing a shot into the roof of the net. The roof had been raised on the Amex, all that tension evaporating into the sky.
“Champione”. “This is how it feels to be City.” “Are you watching Merseyside.” It was all heard, along with two last cheers during the 90 minutes. One was for Brighton captain Bruno, applauded off on his last appearance. The last was for Gundogan’s sumptuous free-kick, a supreme display of technique that was a fitting way to finish up this title win.
It wasn’t too long until Guardiola would be kissing the trophy, again. City had won again, to claim 198 points since their trip to this same stadium at the start of 2017-18. They'd come full circle, and come through it all.
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