The Premier League title is going back to Manchester City after another year of domination in England’s top tier.
The champions scored fewer goals — 95, down from 106 — but also conceded less as well — 23, down from 27 — when compared to the previous season. The 2017/18 campaign was thought to be a once-off, such was their brilliance that they couldn’t repeat it.
Yet City’s pace only dropped by a mere two points all season. Not that they had it all to themselves, as Liverpool pushed them as far as they could; to within a point. Although the title race was tense, it lacked the drama of a truly classic battle, but this should go down as one of the club’s greatest triumphs given how good their closest challengers were.
Their joy has been somewhat diminished by the news that members of the investigatory chamber of Uefa’s financial control board are set to recommend the club be banned from the Champions League amid allegations of rule-breaking stemming from damaging leaks in the past year. Whatever comes of the investigation, a long legal battle is sure to ensue. For now, City fans will be enjoying the present.
Five season-defining moments for Manchester City in the 2018/19 Premier League season:
Mahrez misses from twelve yards
In order to be successful, you need a bit of luck. And Liverpool got it on a few occasions this season.
When they hosted Man City in October, both teams played far more conservatively than they had done so in their previous meetings. Pep Guardiola was clearly wary of Jurgen Klopp’s energetic counter-pressing side, which had destroyed City in the Champions League earlier that year, while the German wasn’t interested in a high-octane battle either.
Both sides only had two shots on target each, but the decisive moment came in the 86th minute when Virgil van Dijk gave away a penalty by taking down Leroy Sane.
With Sergio Aguero subbed off by that stage, it was left to Riyad Mahrez to take the spot kick… and he duly blazed it over the bar. Liverpool’s title challenge may very well have ended there and then had the Algerian stuck it away, but City would not be able to shake them for many months yet.
Millimetres from destiny
The line between calamity and victory have rarely been finer. When Sadio Mane was through one on one with Ederson, the Senegalese attacker hit the post with his effort at the Etihad in January. When John Stones attempted to clear it, he unintentionally smacked the ball off his own goalkeeper and had to scramble to clear the ball off the line and prevent Liverpool from scoring.
The centre-back got to the ball at the last possible second, knocking it away when it was just 11mm from going fully over the line. It will go down as one of the iconic moments of this season, but it came dangerously close to being one of the most disastrous mistakes as well. If it had gone in, or had Mo Salah been able to get to the rebound first, Liverpool may well have finished the season with no defeats. As it turned out, a draw would have been enough to hand them title, but they lost 2-1 instead.
Rafa does Liverpool a favour
When Sergio Aguero scored in the first minute at St. James’ Park back in January, there was a feeling of inevitability about how the game would play out. City had a penchant for early goals this season, more often than not killing the game as a contest so they can saunter along until the final whistle without expending a great deal of energy.
This fixture didn’t stick to the script, however, and Newcastle completed a terrific comeback thanks to a Salomon Rondon goal and a Matt Ritchie penalty to mete out a fourth league defeat of the campaign.
Guardiola was apparently convinced the title was lost at that moment, but the next night Liverpool unexpectedly failed to take advantage of the defeat by drawing to Leicester City. The next five games would see the Reds draw three of them.
Man City, on the other hand, went on to win every single game from that point until the final weekend. That 14 game winning streak was enough to overtake the challengers by late April. Toon manager Rafael Benitez did his former team a favour, but in the long run he may have awoken the sky blue beast from its slumber.
Millimetres from destiny, part deux
In their relentless march towards glory, City easily overcame the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United in the second half of the season, and also secured an important victory over Spurs the same week they were eliminated from the Champions League by Mauricio Pochettino’s side. But it was their trip to Burnley on 28 April that was arguably more decisive in sending the title to Manchester.
The Clarets were all but guaranteed another season in the top flight, but Sean Dyche’s charges are never ones for rolling over. Despite a very slow start to the season, they had regained the kind of defensive solidity that brought them to seventh place the previous year. As such, they frustrated the visitors, who had taken 25 shots, for large swathes of the match and it seemed plausible Burnley could take something from the game.
And then Sergio Aguero happened.
In the 63rd minute, he found a pocket of space in the box before scuffing a shot on goal, which looked to have been cleared off the line by Matt Lowton. But it had indeed crossed it — by 29mm. Once again the footballing gods smiled down on City and laughed at Liverpool.
RKO-mpany out of nowhere
With two games to go in the season, neither side looked like blinking first. If Liverpool had one hope they could cling onto though, it was placed firmly on Brendan Rodgers. His Leicester City team were the trickiest opponent in Man City’s run-in, but how would they fare against this colossus of a team?
Quite well, actually. They defended stoutly and created a couple of decent chances on the break. City took 19 shots in all but the Foxes dealt with them handily enough. That was until the 70th minute, when this happened:
Vincent Kompany not so much strides forward as he does wander into the final third of the pitch, wondering to himself where in god’s name is the pass on. In the end, there was none, but he didn’t need one. The entire Leicester defence stood off him, refusing to be dragged around like puppets, assuming he wouldn’t take the shot on. And if he did, sure it’s only Vincent Kompany. When have you ever seen him score from distance?
Famous last words. The Belgian, going against the advice of some of his teammates, the fans and people watching at home, hit a rocket from outside the box and into the top right-hand corner. Cue scenes of delirium. Top bins, as Raheem Sterling might say.
That said, no Liverpool fan will be forgiving Kelechi Iheanacho for completely messing up a glorious opportunity in injury time.
Gone in 83 seconds
Since that night against Newcastle United, Man City had not trailed in a Premier League game. That was until Glenn Murray popped up from a corner to head Brighton into the lead on the final day of the season. There it was, the chink of light, the opening that Liverpool needed to overtake the reigning champions.
Less than a minute and a half later, City equalised through Aguero and another ten minutes later they closed that opening completely with an Aymeric Laporte header. By the end of the day they won 4-1 and retained their title, in the domineering, machine-like manner to which we have become accustomed.