No slip-up as City retain title

Aymeric Laporte (third from left) celebrating the all-important second goal that put Manchester City 2-1 up at Brighton, after the champions had conceded a shock opener at the Amex Stadium yesterday.
Aymeric Laporte (third from left) celebrating the all-important second goal that put Manchester City 2-1 up at Brighton, after the champions had conceded a shock opener at the Amex Stadium yesterday. PHOTO: DPA

Guardiola's men overcome early scare to beat Brighton 4-1 and dash Liverpool's hopes

Perhaps it was a fitting finish for two of the most consistent teams in the history of English football.

Liverpool won, but so did Manchester City and Pep Guardiola's team became the first team to retain the Premier League title since Manchester United in 2009.

The final margin of the toughest of title races - City's 98 points to Liverpool's 97 - sounded more like a basketball score, but Pep Guardiola's men held on to their lead.

They defeated Brighton 4-1 to finish the season with 14 consecutive wins - no one else has ever ended in such emphatic fashion - and their fourth league title in seven years.

For Liverpool, the 29-year wait goes on despite their 2-0 win over Wolves.

They finished second for the fifth time since they were last champions in 1990. The third-highest points tally in English football was not enough.

For the Reds, the cruelty lay not just in the numbers but the circumstances.

They were top of the virtual standings for 21 minutes yesterday, a period in which they led and City conceded before scoring twice and going to win in emphatic fashion.

The champions made a nervous start. Brighton had scored only twice in nine games, but Glenn Murray headed in his 15th goal of the season from a corner.

It was the first goal City had conceded in five games and the first time they had been behind in the Premier League since January. But theirs was the response of champions as they trailed for only 83 seconds.

A FIGHT UNTIL THE END

It was the hardest and most satisfying Premier League ever. Liverpool were exceptional this year. We've got an incredible desire to overachieve and we're looking forward to the FA Cup final now.

VINCENT KOMPANY, Man City captain on a gruelling but ultimately rewarding season.

  • £422m

  • Cost of Manchester City's squad. Their most expensive buy is Algerian winger Riyad Mahrez, who last year signed for £60 million (S$106.3 million) and has been a benchwarmer before he scored in the 4-1 win over Brighton yesterday.

    68.1%

    City's league-high possession figure.

    8

    It is the eighth time that the Premier League race has gone down to the final day - and the team who started the day on top have always won the title.

    7

    Points City trailed Liverpool until they won 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Jan 3 in what remains the Reds' only league defeat this season.

Sergio Aguero has a track record of scoring on the final day, deciding the title in the 94th minute in 2012, and he was quick to level with a typically clinical finish after David Silva flicked Aymeric Laporte's pass into his path.

Riyad Mahrez was a surprise selection for just his fourth league start of this year, but Guardiola's choice was justified.

If City's record signing has been a bit-part player for the second half of the campaign, he repaid much of his £60 million (S$106.3 million) fee with two crucial contributions.

He took the corner that Laporte, previously City's biggest buy, headed in before the Algerian delivered a classy goal himself.

Mahrez's October penalty miss at Anfield had threatened to be the defining moment of his season.

Instead, it may be remembered for the shot that nestled in the top corner at the Amex Stadium in the 63rd minute. Thereafter, Ilkay Gundogan curled in a fourth.

City have 198 points in two seasons, including 55 out of 57 in the first half of 2017-18 and 54 from 57 in the second period of this campaign.

They are remarkable statistics and Guardiola, who won his eighth league title in 10 seasons, has warned they will get even better.

The lead had changed hands 32 times in the title race as City and Liverpool had traded wins.

In a way, it did again as, amid false reports in the crowd that Brighton were 2-0 up, Liverpool led against Wolves when Trent Alexander-Arnold's cross took a deflection off Willy Boly and fell to Sadio Mane.

The same pair combined for the second, Mane, with a hint of offside, heading his 26th goal of the season, 22 in the Premier League.

Perhaps even more remarkably, it was a 13th league assist for right-back Alexander-Arnold, a record for a defender.

Virgil van Dijk headed against the bar, while Wolves' Matt Doherty struck the upright. Alisson saved twice from Diogo Jota as Wolves, the scourge of the elite with six wins against the top six, almost equalised before Mane's second.

It took the winger level with teammate Mohamed Salah and Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the scoring stakes. It got Liverpool two shares of the Golden Boot, but that was not the silverware they wanted.


How the final day unfolded

17TH MIN

ADVANTAGE LIVERPOOL

Sadio Mane puts the Reds 1-0 up against Wolves while it is still goal-less at Brighton.

27TH MIN

ADVANTAGE LIVERPOOL

Brighton take a shock 1-0 lead thanks to Glenn Murray's near-post header from a corner. But 83 seconds later...

28TH MIN

ADVANTAGE LIVERPOOL

Huge sigh of relief from City fans as Sergio Aguero equalises.

38TH MIN

ADVANTAGE MAN CITY

Towering header by Aymeric Laporte puts City 2-1 ahead and back in control of their destiny.

63RD MIN

ADVANTAGE MAN CITY

After a wonderful piece of skill by Riyad Mahrez, the champions are 3-1 up and have one hand on the trophy.

72ND MIN

ADVANTAGE MAN CITY

Stunning free kick from Ilkay Gundogan. The long wait goes on for Liverpool.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2019, with the headline 'No slip-up as City retain title'. Print Edition | Subscribe