Not at their best but Manchester City still good enough to make history | Football News - Hindustan Times

Not at their best but Manchester City still good enough to make history

ByDhiman Sarkar
May 19, 2024 11:13 PM IST

3-1 win against West Ham makes City the first team to win fourth successive Premier League titles

Since Arsenal lost to Aston Villa last month, there was an air of inevitability about how the Premier League season would end. It deepened after Phil Foden’s screamer 90 seconds into Manchester City’s final tie against West Ham on Sunday. As Foden struck again, City manager Pep Guardiola lifted his arms into the air for the second time. The match was 18 minutes old.

Manchester City's Phil Foden celebrates scoring their second goal with Manuel Akanji and Ruben Dias (REUTERS)
Manchester City's Phil Foden celebrates scoring their second goal with Manuel Akanji and Ruben Dias (REUTERS)

A sixth Premier League title felt really close but West Ham’s Mohammed Kudus and Arsenal provided a frisson of excitement before history was duly made with a 3-1 win – how appropriate that Rodri would score on the final day – which cemented a fourth successive title for Manchester City. The taint of 115 charges of financial impropriety will stay for now but playing on the stadium’s public address system at half-time, “Sweet dreams are made of these” felt like the message of a celebration foretold.

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Numbers tell the scale and scope of City’s achievements. This is their sixth league title in seven seasons and eighth overall. They have averaged 93 points per season in that time and won 175 of 228 Premier League games. Like last term, they did it with 28 wins, four less than what they had got in 2017-18 and 2018-19 when they logged 100 and 98 points respectively. And though it didn’t look like that for most of Sunday, so slick were they, this is proof of City not being at their best but still logging 91 points.

That is what Real Madrid have been doing in recent iterations of the Champions League. The dynamics of a 38-round league and tournament are as different as cheese and chutney but this term City have also found a way to either win or draw games. That leads us to another piece of statistics: City haven’t lost their last 23 games in Premier League and 34 in all competitions.

Squad strength, typified best by Stefan Ortega, is one reason why. The goalkeeper had seven league starts in two years but replacing an injured Ederson, he produced a player-of-the-match performance against Tottenham Hotspur which included sticking out his right leg to Son Heung-min. City’s strength in depth in not new, this is a club that spent £100m on Jack Grealish and then groomed him for one season.

What did appear new this term is how someone always stepped up. Especially after winning the Club World Cup in December. City had a run of four games where they drew with Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur and lost to Villa. It is not abnormal to have such dips in form. What can seem unusual is how City overcame them.

Fulham, Brighton and Wolves had their moments but it was City who scored first. They had goals in the first 15 minutes in seven of their last eight games. Against Crystal Palace, City trailed till Kevin De Bruyne scored with an angular delight and then overran the opponents.

Often used as left back, there were goals from Josko Gvardiol; five in eight games. There was a diving header from De Bruyne against Brighton, his first goal from a header in the league. Foden being adjudged player of the season is proof of how he has matured in defensive duties and can now win games on his own.

Those of a Manchester United persuasion will not forget Foden's virtuoso in March. Neither will those rooting for West Ham. Foden’s first goal was like the second he scored against Manchester United, cutting in and firing a left-footer. For the second, and his 18th of the league this term, Foden produced a silken first touch from a more central position.

And just when talk around Erling Haaland’s lack of defensive contribution started getting louder, he responded with nine goals in his last six games. With better luck and touch he could have reached double digits in seven. The Norwegian still has the fewest touches among City’s outfield players but conversation about him not doing enough has ended. Given that he has won his second Golden Boot (27 goals in 31 games) in as many seasons it would have felt as out of place as Haaland sliding in to make a goalline save.

Arsenal pushed all the way, stopped City from scoring at home for the first time in 58 games and ended a run of seven successive defeats at Etihad. Liverpool came close to making this a first three-way final day race since 1971-72 and yet, Kudus’ spectacular scissors-kick amounted to little beyond Guardiola smashing a water bottle. Like Liverpool in 2018-19, Arsenal found out that their best was not enough.

De Bruyne has said that Guardiola is the most important member of this squad. He has changed so much from when Barcelona wowed the world with possession and false nines and it is because of that he has stayed effective. City have more muscle, literally, in all areas of the pitch and in Haaland a focal point. It is for a reason that Jürgen Klopp calls Guardiola the best coach in the world.

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