So Manchester City are champions, and the frightening prospect for the rest of the Premier League is that they are determined to get even better.
Saturday’s win at Tottenham put one foot over the finishing line, and the title was confirmed yesterday when Manchester United were beaten at home by bottom club West Brom, meaning no one can catch Pep Guardiola’s side.
The Catalan coach preferred to play golf rather than watch United, but on Saturday night he was already planning for the future, with more trophies on the radar of his rampaging side who are on an upwards trajectory.
Last season they were well beaten at Tottenham, who had won three of the five meetings before this one and finished eight points above City last season. But Spurs were no match for a City side who equalled a Premier League record of winning the title with five games to spare, and have made huge strides under Guardiola, who spent €250m last summer remodelling his team, particularly in defence.
“Last year showed me clearly we were not good enough, with a few exceptions. We were not bad but we had problems conceding goals and were punished. But the club made good investments in players and that is the difference. These players are expensive but now we have the right mentality. I think we have learned from what happened last season.”
Guardiola acknowledged the difference new arrivals have made, allied with the pace and youth of his forward line. Sergio Aguero made way again for Gabriel Jesus, who is 21, Leroy Sane is 22 and Raheem Sterling 23. Guardiola said: “Sergio is a top player but he is 30 years old, and now we have players who are 21, 22 and so, so quick. Maybe it can be complicated for players of that age in the Champions League, but it is a good lesson for the club and them for next season.
“We can improve. You cannot deny we were good this season, the results show that. To win 18 games in a row shows mental strength, and today was important to show belief. City are not like United, Arsenal, or Chelsea, big clubs in England that have a lot of trophies and history behind them. So we have to believe: ‘Wow, we are good too.’”
He admitted winning the Premier League has been tougher than its equivalents in Spain and Germany because of the relentless nature and physicality of England’s top flight.
“If we can win it once, we can win it twice. But we have to be constant, constant every game. It will be more complicated, but for everyone in the club to believe how good we are, that will bring us a lot of points in the future.”
Dele Alli agreed City have improved enormously since Tottenham took them apart at White Hart Lane last season. Saturday night’s match at Wembley saw the tables turned, with City putting on a masterclass in the first half particularly. Spurs had not previously been dominated at Wembley — their opening defeat by Chelsea was a smash and grab raid, and Juventus knocked them out of the Champions League in a cruel three-minute spell.
But Spurs had overwhelmed Real Madrid, Manchester United, Liverpool, and Arsenal at their temporary home, and City became the first team to comprehensively outplay them.
“They are a great side, passing the ball well and winning it back early,” said Alli.
“The improvement is not so much about the new players. Tactically they have got to grips with the way he wants them to play, moving the ball well, with good movement all over the pitch. It’s so difficult to defend against.”
Spurs certainly failed defensively in the first 25 minutes as City raced into a two-goal lead, with Jesus running on to Vincent Kompany’s long ball to shoot past Hugo Lloris, and then Ilkay Gundongan converting a penalty three minutes later when the keeper fouled Sterling.
Christian Eriksen replied before half-time to reduce the deficit, but Sterling scored from close range to settle City’s nerves and end a run of three straight defeats.
Kyle Walker admitted losing both legs of their Champions League quarter-final to Liverpool, either side of a home loss to Manchester United, had made for a difficult week. “This has been the toughest period since I joined City, with three losses in a week, but we put that right and that shows the character, the belief and the standard of players in the dressing room.”
The former Spurs defender added: “It’s mixed emotions, coming back to a club where I spent many great years. This was a massively important game, so winning was a relief after what has happened over the past week.”
Walker called the loss to Liverpool “crushing” but has put any lingering regrets behind him.
“Some decisions didn’t go our way but we have to take it on the chin and bounce back next year, hopefully better and stronger. Liverpool beat us over two games and best of luck to them. I wish them success in it because it would be fantastic for an English club to win the Champions League. I’ve got a bad taste in my mouth that it wasn’t us, but I take my hat off to Liverpool for winning the two games.”
But he has the compensation of one medal already and another on the way. “It could not have gone much better. Winning the Carabao Cup meant we were going in the right direction, but I’ve been playing in the Premier League since I was 19 so I want to win it. It was devastating for me not to have done it with Tottenham, but to come here (City) and do it in my first season is fantastic.”
He does not intend to slow down now: “We need to continue, we can’t stop at one league title. I think there needs to be more before we are regarded as one of the top teams to have played in the Premier League.”
Can City win again next season? “Most definitely, especially with the youth that is in the squad now and the hunger to go on and do big things.”
The rest of the Premier League has been warned...
Lloris 6; Trippier 6, Sanchez 6, Vertonghen 8, Davies 6; Dier 6, Dembele 7 (Moura 72); Eriksen 7, Lamela 5 (Son 64), Alli 6 (Sissoko 84); Kane 6
Subs not used:
Vorm, Wanyama, Aurier, K Sterling
MAN CITY (3-2-2-3):
Ederson 7; Walker 7, Kompany 7, Laporte 6; Gundongan 7, Delph 6; De Bruyne 8 (Toure 89), D Silva 9; R Sterling 7, Jesus 7 (B Silva 76), Sane 7 (Otamendi 64)
Subs not used:
Bravo, Zinchenko, Foden, Diaz
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