MANCHESTER, England — Pep Guardiola spent the day golfing. Raheem Sterling was relaxing on his sofa. Vincent Kompany, trailed by the cameras of Manchester City’s in-house television station, was with his family. In the end, none of them needed to do anything for Manchester City to be crowned Premier League champion.
Guardiola and his team had hoped, of course, to win a third championship in seven years in rather more satisfying circumstances: had Guardiola and City beaten Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium last Saturday, they would have claimed the title on home soil, against their fiercest rival. Despite leading by two goals at halftime, though, City collapsed, losing by 3-2.
Guardiola was phlegmatic in defeat: all City had to do, he said, was win two of its remaining six games.
In the end, one was enough. After 10 days in which City had crashed out of the Champions League quarterfinals to Liverpool and lost the Manchester derby, Guardiola’s team swept Tottenham Hotspur aside on Saturday night, winning by 3-1 at Wembley. On Sunday morning, its lead at the top of the Premier League was 16 points.
United, its nearest contender, had been expected to cut that back to 13 — with five games to play — on Sunday. José Mourinho’s United was at home to West Bromwich Albion, rooted to the foot of the table, all but assured of relegation, and coming to the end of a season in which it has fired two managers, a chairman, a chief executive and a director of football.
Even Kompany was not expecting much at Old Trafford. On Sunday morning, he asked his Twitter followers which games they would be watching on a busy day around Europe. He name-checked eight games — Milan against Napoli, Schalke against Borussia Dortmund, Celtic against Rangers, P.S.V. Eindhoven against Ajax — but not the one that could decide the title.
By the time Jay Rodriguez gave West Brom the lead in the second half against an insipid Manchester United, though, there was only one game Kompany and his teammates were watching. United could not find a way back. West Brom held firm. City’s lead stayed at 16 points, with only 15 available. In the pouring rain, to a chorus of jeers around Old Trafford, City was confirmed as champion.
The anticlimax of the denouement, though — the polar opposite to the circumstances in which the club won its first Premier League, in 2012, when Sergio Agüero scored with the last kick of the season to clinch the championship — should not disguise the scale of City’s achievement.
Guardiola’s team still could win the league by a record margin, with a record points haul, having won more games and scored more goals than any team has before. His detractors will point to the money he has spent, and to the inconsistency of the Premier League’s other big beasts, but that he has crafted a side vastly superior to anything else in England this year should not be questioned, a team so good that it could win the league without kicking a ball.
Even Mourinho, his greatest foe, recognizes that. “Manchester City won the title because they won more points than anybody else,” Mourinho said Sunday. “Because yesterday they won against Tottenham. Because during the season they only lost two matches. You are not going to tell Manchester City that they won the title because Manchester United gave them the title.”
Published at Sun, 15 Apr 2018 22:45:09 +0000