Manchester City are champions of England for a fourth time in five years after holding off Liverpool in a titanic tussle for the Premier League title.
City’s failure to land a natural striker to replace Sergio Aguero cast doubt on their title credentials as Liverpool and Chelsea strengthened their squads with eyes on the crown.
Pep Guardiola’s men again proved to be well-suited to the marathon grind of a 38-game season, but needed to summon the spirit of champions to seal the deal on the final day.
Trailing 2-0 to Aston Villa with 14 minutes remaining, City needed to score three times to avoid a trophyless season and pulled it off thanks to Ilkay Gundogan’s double either side of Rodri’s strike.
AFP Sport looks at five defining moments that swung the title race City’s way:
Chelsea put in their place
Chelsea had City’s number towards the end of last season, beating them three times in three different competitions, culminating in lifting the Champions League in Porto.
The Blues were expected to carry that momentum into a title challenge and started the season strongly.
City were three points behind Chelsea and Liverpool when they travelled to Stamford Bridge in early September having dropped points in two of their first five games.
However, Guardiola’s men laid down a marker with a dominant display that deserved a more comprehensive result than their 1-0 victory.
The same day, Liverpool were held 3-3 at Brentford to nullify the impact of City’s slow start.
Fans were back in the stands all season but coronavirus still had a major impact as outbreaks among squads led to mass postponements in the winter months.
City were one of the few clubs to escape without a single match being rearranged and produced a 12-game winning run between November and February that took the title race away from the chasing pack.
Rodri’s 92nd-minute winner at Arsenal in an early kick-off on January 1 amid a packed schedule was the stuff that champions are made of.
But there was plenty of the exhilarating football Guardiola’s sides are synonomous with too as Leeds were dispatched 7-0, Leicester hit for six and Newcastle and Norwich thrashed 4-0.
Liverpool Pay Penalty At Leicester
As City motored through the festive period, Liverpool’s title bid came off the rails.
Jurgen Klopp’s men have lost just three of 62 games all season that kept their bid for an unprecedented quadruple alive into the final week of the campaign.
However, one of them came in the most unlikely circumstances at Leicester on December 28.
The postponement of Liverpool’s Boxing Day game with Leeds had given Klopp’s men a rare six-day rest amid the busiest time of the English football calendar.
Leicester, by contrast, had lost 6-3 at City only 48 hours previously and were severely weakened by injuries and Covid cases.
Mohamed Salah missed a Premier League penalty for the first time in four years before Ademola Lookman gave Leicester an unlikely 1-0 win.
Draws at Tottenham and Chelsea either side of Liverpool’s trip to the King Power allowed City to move 12 points ahead on New Year’s Day.
‘Title decider’ stalemate suits City
Liverpool’s stunning form in 2022 gave Klopp’s men the chance to leapfrog City when the top two faced off at the Etihad in early April.
But City maintained a one-point lead at the top after a thrilling 2-2 draw.
Guardiola bemoaned his side had left the Reds “alive” after missing the best chances to win the game.
However, ultimately it proved to be a vital point in retaining the title.
No Hammer Blow
Liverpool’s first dropped points at Anfield since October in a 1-1 draw with Tottenham allowed City to extend their lead to three points going into the final two games of the season.
But they twice nearly threw it away by falling behind 2-0 to both West Ham and Aston Villa.
Jarrod Bowen punished an injury-decimated City defence scoring twice for the Hammers before Jack Grealish and Vladimir Coufal’s own goal did enough to salvage a point and keep the destiny of the title in their own hands.
City did not learn their lesson as Villa also counter-attacked to good effect to take a 2-0 lead at the Etihad on Sunday.
This time Gundogan was the hero off the bench to spark scenes reminiscent of Aguero’s 93rd minute title winner to start City’s era of dominance 10 years ago.