Vincent Kompany, 11 years a loyal Manchester City servant and a symbol of the stratospheric changes the club has undergone in that time, scored his first goal in 13 months at the most opportune moment and in the most spectacular fashion last night.
For 70 minutes, Leicester had frustrated a City side who had not dropped league points in 95 days and needed to continue with that form in order to beat Liverpool and become the first team in a decade to retain the Premier League.
But a short pass from Aymeric Laporte found the Belgian in space, 25 yards out, and Kompany deposited an astonishing right-foot strike into the top corner of the visitors’ goal.
Now, City visit Brighton on Sunday knowing they only have to match Liverpool’s result at home to Wolves to win their — and Kompany’s — fourth Premier League crown in the last eight seasons.
The opening exchanges of the game looked poised to go exactly the way of so many before them as Bernardo Silva tore down the right wing with abandon and the home side forced their first corner after 50 seconds.
But then, a strange thing happened. Leicester, with their former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers at the helm and clearly doing a stand-out job, forgot to read the script.
At least they forgot to read Guardiola’s. Had Jurgen Klopp been asked to provide one for the evening’s events, he would pretty much have come up with was unfolding at the Etihad over the opening hour, with the exception of wanting a Leicester goal written in. The visitors might even have delivered that, with James Maddison’s clever touch after nine minutes setting up a shot for Ricardo Pereira which was blocked by Kompany before Marc Abrighton volleyed against home defender Oleksandr Zinchenko.
For the first time in a long time — probably since their incredible run of 27 wins from their last 29 games began with a defeat at Leicester on St Stephen’s Day— Guardiola’s side looked completely devoid of ideas.
They managed to gather a head of steam just after the half hour, with a short sequence of corners, one of which David Silva deposited onto the head of Sergio Aguero at the near post.
The Argentinian did brilliantly — almost perfectly — to steer his header goalwards only for the ball to strike the post before being clawed to safety by Kasper Schmeichel. City players and supporters appealed that the ball had crossed the line but referee Mike Dean only had to glance at his watch to know that goalline technology had ruled the effort out.
It was as close as City could come to a first half goal and, minute by minute, the tension increased around an Etihad watching their team in action for the final time of this memorable season.
This was a rare — if not unique — experience for those supporters, watching their team struggle for ideas as they sought to break down a well-organised and committed opponent. Not since the visit of Huddersfield to the Etihad, exactly one year ago to the day, had City been involved in a goalless league draw at home.
But, as Leicester warmed to their task, boasting an almost unheard of 42% of first half possession, the defending champions looked, if not troubled, perplexed. David Silva, unusually not a major factor for his side, was booked for a cynical hack at Youri Tielemans and Kompany followed suit for a brutal foul on Maddison.
In response, all City could muster was a threatening David Silva shot which rolled just wide and long-range efforts from Gundogan and Bernardo which never truly troubled Schmeichel.
This was time for a classic Guardiola pep talk, the chance for the coach to make the sort of adjustments and tactical shifts that win the major occasions.
And early second half signs were promising for the hosts, Bernardo making space at the end of another impressive run and shooting just wide, into the side-netting, at the start of a spell which saw City press Leicester far more aggressively than had been the case in the first half, keeping them pinned in their half.
City had Leicester where they wanted them, for the time being at least, with Kyle Walker’s long ball being headed into the six-yard area athletically by Bernardo only for Raheem Sterling to head well over. Bernardo curled a disappointing attempt wide before Gundogan slipped in Sterling who, again, proved inaccurate by screwing a low shot off target and Gundogan himself came closer at the end of another spell of pressure with a 20-yard strike that drifted away.
But Leicester still posed a threat of their own, as Harry Maguire showed as he embarked on a 60-yard run before crossing for Maddison who shot narrowly wide from the edge of the area.
Guardiola began to show his anxiety, pacing ever further from his technical area, especially when a rare slip in the Leicester defence let in Aguero whose close-range effort was saved superbly by Schmeichel.
But Kompany was about to have the pivotal say on the night, and quite possibly the season even though former City striker Kelechi Iheanacho missed a glorious late chance for the visitors.
MAN CITY (4-3-3): Ederson 7; Walker 7, Kompany 7, Laporte 6, Zinchenko 6; Foden 5 (Sane 56, 6), Gundogan 7, D Silva 6 (Stones 90); B Silva 8, Aguero 7 (Jesus 85), Sterling 6.
LEICESTER (4-1-4-1): Schmeichel 7; Pereira 7, Evans 7, Maguire 7, Chilwell 7; Ndidi 7; Albrighton 6 (Gray 85), Tielemans 6 (Barnes 75, 6), Choudhury 6, Maddison 8 (Iheanacho 80); Vardy 7.
Referee: Mike Dean 7.