City’s journey to title: From winning title deciders to fielding consistent terrific performers
1. Manchester City 1-1 Everton, August 21: It is easy to forget that Raheem Sterling did not start the season in the City side. The winger came on at half-time in the second game with City already reduced to 10 men by Kyle Walker’s controversial red card. City trailed for an hour before Sterling levelled. Without that, they would not have gone unbeaten until January.
2. Bournemouth 1-2 Manchester City, August 26: Another Sterling late show, another dismissal and more controversy. City had trailed again, Sterling grabbed a 97th-minute winner and got a 99th-minute red card for celebrating with the crowd. His August antics meant that whereas City may have only mustered four points from their first three games, they took seven.
3. Manchester City 5-0 Liverpool, September 9: The scoreline was emphatic, if the pivotal moment was Sadio Mane’s first-half red card for catching Ederson in the face with a high boot. But Leroy Sane’s brace was a sign of how devastating he can be and, after only two wins against the top seven last season, this showed City’s fortunes were changing rapidly.
4. Watford 0-6 Manchester City, September 16: It was not merely the margin of victory, during a run of three wins by an aggregate score of 16-0, or Sergio Aguero’s hat-trick, or the 28 shots. It was the reality that they won after a midweek Champions League game, another issue for them last season. It was also their first league game this season playing 4-3-3.
5. Chelsea 0-1 Manchester City, September 30: It was significant when Chelsea won at the Etihad Stadium in December 2016 and similarly important when City gained revenge. The symbolism extended to the outstanding former Chelsea player Kevin de Bruyne curling in a brilliant winner. It was also the first game of Fabian Delph’s successful conversion into a left-back.
6. Manchester City 2-1 Southampton, November 29: Him again. Eight days after Sterling’s 88th minute winner against Feyenoord, three after his 84th-minute decider at Huddersfield came a 96th-minute beauty. Besides providing further proof of Sterling’s substance, that run of vital late goals – David Silva got another four days later against West Ham – showed City’s spirit and fitness.
7. Manchester United 1-2 Manchester City, December 10: Jose Mourinho admitted United’s title hopes were “probably over” after City ended a 40-match unbeaten home record to go 11 points clear. Pep Guardiola appreciated the sight of his small side scoring twice from set-pieces, courtesy of David Silva and Nicolas Otamendi, but his side still needed Ederson to make a brilliant double save from Romelu Lukaku and Juan Mata. It highlighted the difference the summer signing has made in goal.
8. Manchester City 4-1 Tottenham, December 16: Tottenham inflicted City’s first league defeat last season. There was no repeat. Besides the statutory Sterling late goals – two of them – De Bruyne produced another masterclass. He scored a wonderful goal, Dele Alli resorted to the illegal to try and stop him and Mauricio Pochettino’s attempt to halt City with a diamond midfield failed.
9. Arsenal 0-3 Manchester City, March 1: Vincent Kompany thought it would be the toughest test of City’s season. Arsenal, he reasoned, would be out for revenge after Guardiola’s men won the League Cup final four days earlier. City were without the injured Sterling, Fernandinho and Benjamin Mendy and the banned Delph. They surged into a 3-0 lead in 33 minutes. Game over.
10. Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea, March 4: Chelsea’s incredibly negative tactics were a sign of how City have demoralised their rivals. The leaders’ mastery was apparent in the way they completed a Premier League record 902 passes, with Ilkay Gundogan responsible for 167 of them. Bernardo Silva scored the winner to put City 18 points clear and all but seal the title.
Manchester City’s title triumph: 5 key players
AFP Sport looks at five of the key players in City’s title triumph.
Guardiola showed his ruthless streak after a disappointing first campaign in charge, snapping up goalkeeper Ederson for £35 million ($49 million) within three weeks of the end of the season.
Much of the blame for Guardiola’s first-season struggles was pinned on a series of errors from Claudio Bravo, brought from Barcelona to replace the ostracised Joe Hart.
In contrast to Bravo, Ederson has been solid when called upon to make saves. But, crucially, he is even better with his feet, which suits Guardiola’s style.
The Brazilian’s long-range passing to launch City on the counter-attack and beat any high press employed by opponents has been a regular feature of the season, adding another weapon to City’s frightening attacking arsenal.
Kevin De Bruyne
The man most often picked out by Guardiola himself as the heartbeat of this City side, Kevin De Bruyne looks set to battle with Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah for the Premier League player of the year awards.
The Belgian leads the league in assists but he offers far more than raw numbers.
“He is the best example and he helps us to be a better club, a better institution for the future,” Guardiola said after De Bruyne led a 4-1 destruction of Tottenham Hotspur in November.
If De Bruyne doesn’t get you, David Silva likely will. Having two natural playmakers in the same midfield has made City almost impossible to stop in the same way Guardiola harnessed the brilliant best from Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta in a glorious four-year spell at Barcelona from 2008 to 2012.
“I think David is also one of the best this season,” said De Bruyne.
“Since I came here he has been unbelievable. He helped my game in a lot of ways.”
Silva has also chipped in with his share of important goals -- opening the scoring in the first Manchester derby of the season at Old Trafford.
His telling contribution is all the more outstanding given the Spaniard has had to spend a lot of time back in his homeland between games after the premature birth of his son in December.
The beneficial effects of Guardiola’s coaching are clear-cut in the case of Raheem Sterling as the 23-year-old has come of age this season to deliver on his abundant potential.
The England international is City’s second-highest scorer behind Sergio Aguero but his goals have also come at some key moments on their road to the title.
Guardiola’s men were on course to drop points in two of their opening three games until Sterling’s 97th-minute winner at Bournemouth back in August kicked off an 18-match winning run in the league.
That streak was kept alive as Sterling also struck late twice in three days in late November to edge out Huddersfield and Southampton 2-1 to demoralise the chasing pack.
In City’s mega-rich era, managers and players have come and gone but one constant has largely remained— Sergio Aguero’s goalscoring.
The Argentine, who joined the club in 2011, is now City’s all-time leading goalscorer and has enjoyed another bumper season.
Initially challenged for his place in the team by Gabriel Jesus when the Brazilian arrived last January, Aguero has reestablished himself as City’s number one striker.