MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Three goals in five minutes turned around Manchester City’s season finale as Pep Guardiola’s team clinched a sixth Premier League title in 11 seasons, rallying to beat Aston Villa 3-2 and hold off Liverpool’s challenge on Sunday.
After starting the day in first place, City was at risk of a historic choke when it conceded twice to trail 2-0 at home to Villa.
İlkay Gündoğan’s header began the comeback in the 76th minute and Rodri equalized two minutes later by placing the ball through a tight gap into the bottom corner. The Etihad Stadium erupted in celebrations in the 81st when Gündoğan tapped in Kevin De Bruyne’s cross.
“It was an unbelievable game,” Gündoğan said. “We are human beings and, after going 2-0 down, the chances were just very, very small. But we had to do the simple things and scoring two goals quickly and then having 10 minutes to score the third one gave us the right lift.”
The importance of that goal became clearer moments later. Liverpool had been locked at 1-1 against Wolverhampton but Mohamed Salah then put the second-place team 2-1 in front in the 84th minute. That scoreline would have taken Liverpool into first place had City not just mounted its fightback to take the lead.
The jeopardy was still there — with Andy Robertson sealing Liverpool’s 3-1 win — while City would have conceded the title had it conceded a late equalizer.
City got itself into jeopardy — against a lowly team with little to play for — when Matty Cash headed Villa in front in the 37th and former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho extended the lead in the 69th to the shock of City’s players.
Gündoğan had arrived from the bench a minute earlier, among Guardiola’s second-half substitutions that would transform the game in City’s favor.
“He came on and changed the whole game,” City midfielder Phil Foden said. “He always knows where the ball is going to be in and around the box. He’s such a clever player.”
City retained the trophy by a single point after the 38th and final game in a manner that was more jittery than expected considering City briefly had a 14-point lead in January.
“We are legends,” Guardiola said. “When you win four in five then it’s because these guys are so special. We will be remembered.”
This was the first time since Guardiola took charge in 2016 that City has sealed the title in front of its own fans who spilled onto the field in their thousands at the final whistle against Villa.
Although it went down to the wire, it wasn’t as agonizingly late as 10 years ago when City’s first Premier League title was only clinched with stoppage-time goals at the end of the season at the Etihad.
“This is the Man City spirit,” departing captain Fernandinho said. “You never give up. You always go to the end. It happened 10 years ago and it’s happened again.”
The 2012 success — City’s first championship crown in 44 years with Roberto Mancini as manager — ushered in the era of dominance enjoyed by a club transformed by the influx of investment from Abu Dhabi.
City is now enjoying the steady stream of titles it once had to watch crosstown rival United gather up under Alex Ferguson. The rise of City coincided with the retirement of the Scot — who won the Premier League 13 times from 1993 to 2013 — and the decline of Manchester United.
But while United has a record 20 English titles, City only moved onto eight, including the championship successes in 1937 and 1968 long before the inception of the Premier League. A sign of how distant these rivals are now on the field is City finishing 35 points ahead of its sixth-place neighbor.
Liverpool is the greater threat to Guardiola’s side. In the last five seasons, the only time City didn’t win the trophy was when Liverpool’s 30-year title drought ended in 2020.
It will, however, be another season ending with City unable to win the biggest prize in European football — the Champions League — while Liverpool will contest the final against Real Madrid on Saturday.
While Liverpool’s net spending on transfers has been around $250 million in the last five years, City’s has been more than $530 million.
City’s financial might wasn’t enough to convince Tottenham to sell Harry Kane ahead of this season, leaving Guardiola to achieve this title without a recognizable striker. Yet, City was able to break the British transfer record to sign Jack Grealish for 100 million pounds ($139 million) and still not bring the midfielder off the bench on Sunday against his former club.
City has already reinforced its attack for next season, with a deal clinched with Borussia Dortmund to sign Erling Haaland for 60 million euros ($63 million), adding one of Europe’s most exciting young forwards into the squad.
Still, concerns remain for human rights activists and less wealthy rivals about the club’s Abu Dhabi ownership and its actions.
Human rights violations by the United Arab Emirates are glossed over by City fans who largely overlook how their club has been used by a state as a tool of soft power that exploits the glamor of the world’s biggest sport to cleanse its image.
City owner Sheikh Mansour has only been seen at one game during his 14 years as owner. Mansour, who is deputy prime minister of the UAE, was condemned by the British government for recently hosting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
City was fined €10 million ($12 million) in 2020 for obstructing a UEFA investigation into its finances following leaks of internal correspondence at the club but a Champions League ban was overturned.
Despite Premier League investigations continuing into City’s conduct, including whether inflated Abu Dhabi-linked sponsorship deals boosted income, Guardiola has long rejected concerns about the way his squad has been funded.
“Tomorrow we can celebrate together in the Manchester streets with cigars and beers,” the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach said after winning a 10th league title in management.
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