The final of the Premier League season on Sunday and the ridiculously close title race that eventually ended it were shocking and exciting, full of big twists along the way. It was also somehow familiar. Three years ago, Manchester City shook off a deficit on the final day to come back and beat Liverpool to the Premier League title in dramatic fashion. Yesterday Manchester City shook off an even bigger deficit on the final day to come back and beat Liverpool to the Premier League title in even more dramatic fashion. Once again, tension turned to bliss for City fans, hope to disappointment for Liverpool supporters, while everyone else could only enjoy the sensational ending to this crazy ride.
Despite falling two goals behind Aston Villa after 75 minutes in Sunday’s last game of the season, City revived, scoring three goals in about five minutes to earn a 3-2 win that gave the club its own fourth championship title in the Pep Guardiola era. At no point on Sunday were Man City actually behind Liverpool in the table, although it sure felt like the reigning champions had screwed things up there for a while. Aston Villa took the lead in the 37th minute through a Matty Cash header, putting pressure on the Citizens. After former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho scored a second goal for Villa in the 69th minute, we felt like we were witnessing a historic meltdown:
At the moment of Coutinho’s goal, a roar from Anfield signaled the Liverpool players that there was a chance. With City in danger, Liverpool were right on target: an early goal from Wolverhampton Wanderers put the Reds behind but the hosts slowly took control of the game. Sadio Mané equalized in the 24th minute after a superb Thiago streak but Liverpool needed to win and hope that at worst Villa would hold a draw against City.
However, despite having a possession and shooting advantage over Wolves, Liverpool failed to break through in a very tense second half which saw fans keep one eye on the field and one on their phones. It was only in the 84th minute that Liverpool got the lead thanks to a confusion in the penalty area and a plug-in by Mohamed Salah:
But Salah’s goal came too late. If Liverpool had taken the lead at Wolves while Manchester City were still losing to Villa, the pressure on the Citizens might have proved too great to overcome. Instead, Salah scored after City had already made their comeback and that was it. History was not just repeating itself for Liverpool; the reenactment was even worse. Thanks to some terrible defense and goalkeeping from Aston Villa, City were able to do to their opponents – and Liverpool by proxy – what Real Madrid did to City in the Champions League semi-finals.
It started and ended with Ilkay Gündogan. The midfielder made the switch in the 68th minute and got to work, giving City more bite as he ran from deep into the box when he had plus in a listless opening hour. First, Gundogan struck at the back post, completely unmarked, at the end of a Raheem Sterling cross for City’s opener. Substitute Oleksandr Zinchenko next found Rodri up in the box and the Spanish midfielder put the ball inside. Eventually, Gündogan found himself on the same back post as the first goal, and a beautiful low cross from Kevin De Bruyne propelled the German to the game and the title:
It’s not quite as stunning as his famous comeback in 2012, which saw City score twice in stoppage time to steal the title from Manchester United, but it’s close. What City did between the 76th and 81st minutes on Sunday was a hyper-compressed example of what they’d been doing all season: It turned on the Jets, showed they have more talent than pretty much anyone, and overwhelmed an exhausted opponent. No one in the world can score as many goals in quick succession as City, so what has boiled down to one last riot is a fitting end to another squeeze in a title race.
If there is any consolation for Liverpool, it is that they have already ended their Premier League title drought in the COVID-hit 2019-20 season; Certainly this one doesn’t hurt as much as it did in 2019 for that reason alone. Like this season, Liverpool also have a Champions League final to look forward to to ease some of those domestic pains, only this time they have the chance to have one Cup treble having already won the League and FA Cups.
Looking ahead, the main concern for Liverpool – apart from the need to mentally overcome this lack in the Premier League – will be the health of Thiago, who sustained an injury in first-half injury time against Wolves. The club are likely to need their No6 against a Real Madrid forged in the flames of the Champions League and the six-day gap between games here won’t help the Spain international. Still, Liverpool have an opportunity to shake off their current disappointment, which is something City would have lacked had they collapsed.
It didn’t, however, and this is a deserved title for City in a season that came to a well-deserved end. These two clubs cannot really escape each other as they have won the last five titles together, twice with a one-point gap between them. Whether City will return to their more dominant victories next year with the addition of Erling Haaland remains to be seen, especially as Liverpool are set to reload as usual; the addition of the extremely cool and good Luis Díaz in January was the first step there. I can’t promise that the Premier League will play the final day again next season, but I won’t bet against it either. The margins between Manchester City and Liverpool are too slim to believe otherwise.