Jay Rodriguez’s tap-in at Old Trafford on a rainy Sunday afternoon in April will be remembered as the moment that Manchester City officially carved their name on the Premier League trophy, but in honesty the ‘Official: City are Champions’ tweets have been saved in the drafts of many accounts for months.
I take this time to have a look at some of the reasons City dominated the league and made the gap between them and the challengers mirror the SPL or Bundesliga, noting the key events or moments along the way that won the title for Pep Guardiola’s free-scoring self-proclaimed ‘Shark Team’.
Sterling’s late strike in Bournemouth
A sunny August afternoon on the south coast, Manchester City were staring down the barrel of a second 1-1 draw in a week, after being held by Ronald Koeman’s Everton at the Etihad the previous Monday. Obviously, social media went into meltdown post-Everton, with rival fans coming out with ludicrous comments such as “£200m plus spent and you still can’t beat Everton at home”. Although looking back it was stupid to write anyone off in the title race in August, City admittedly hadn’t looked great at all. They were the better team in Bournemouth on the day, but were miles off their breathtaking best.
Enter stage, Raheem Sterling. On the back of a late equaliser against Everton, also assisted by Danilo, the Englishman doubled his tally for the season when he somewhat scuffed his shot into the top corner of Asmir Begovic’s net. The players and fans alike celebrated in unity, with the police having to get involved too, yet this moment kick-started City’s fabulous campaign.
When you look for leaders in this side, the obvious answers are Vinnie Kompany, Fernandinho or David Silva, yet I would argue that Raheem Sterling is very near the top of that list. He may not be a leader in the conventional sense of barking orders to the rest of his team, however when the rest of the team is having a bad day, Raheem has the ability to up his game to another level.
If that goal hadn’t gone in, City would’ve been 5 points off the pace at the top of the Premier League by the end of the weekend – things may have been very different.
Four 2-1 wins in a row in late November/early December
Huddersfield (A), Southampton (H), West Ham (H), United (A). One fortnight, four 2-1 victories, title won.
I celebrated Sterling’s winner against Southampton like we had won the league – not quite Aguero 93:20 but it was up there. The truth is, goals like that did win us the league.
However, whether it be Sterling against Southampton, Silva’s late magic at home to West Ham on a lovely winter’s Sunday, City taking the moral high-ground at Old Trafford keeping it in the corner, or Raheem’s scruffy tap-in at Huddersfield, this fortnight won City the league.
Last season, we would have never got 12 points in those games. There is no way that Sterling would have the composure to be so calm against Southampton, or that we could come from behind at a very stubborn Huddersfield side.
Fabian Delph’s versatility and desire
If I opted for singular events, goals or games that won the title for City, I could go on all week. For that reason, I’ve tried to limit the sub-headings more to themes or tactical tweaks that we saw in the season that were central to the title win.
One of these is the versatility of one man – Fabian Delph. When Benjamin Mendy was ruled out for the majority of the season, City fans went into a huge panic – left-back was the only position that City were without a recognised deputy. The right-footed Danilo was mooted to be the only real option.
Yet, up stepped Yorkshireman Fabian Delph. He had played there a couple of times for Aston Villa, but nothing could prepare him to be thrown in the deep end at left-back mid-week in Europe, then away at the former champions Chelsea.
I have to admit I was surprised with Fabian, but in hindsight I shouldn’t have been, as his desire to succeed is second to none. From rejecting a stay at Aston Villa, where he was a big fish in a not so good side, to better his career and fight for medals. Not only that, Fabian turned down a summer move to Stoke, a lower side, to fight for his place in Pep Guardiola’s Man City side. He has surpassed all of my expectations and proved so many City fans wrong in the process – he is assured on the ball, and excellently adequate and strong off it.
Fair play, Fabian, you deserve the medal just as much as any player this season.
The steel and metal to win big games
There are 30 points to play for against fellow top six opposition – last season City managed 10 points, this season City gained a massive 24 points, eight wins against the top six, including doubles over Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal.
The City fan-base is possibly the most pessimistic in the division, with reason. Yet, the win at Stamford Bridge in September is the day that many fans reference as the day that they knew in their mind that this City side were just too good not to win the league.
Last season City were good in big games, often coming home feeling hard done by, failing to gain maximum points in games which Guardiola’s men had the better chances. It is a mixture of that clinical nature on the attack, with a new brand of defending that has been unheard of in this league, which catapulted City to the massive 24/30 tally.
Chelsea at home is the perfect illustration of what City can be about. That afternoon saw zero shots on target for the visiting side, the same side that won the league without much challenge last season. It wasn’t the attacking, chance-creating City that we have seen all season – it was a conservative, calm, keep-the-ball City that just stopped Chelsea playing by simply… not letting them have the ball.
Whether it be experience, tactical tweaks or just being better than the opposition, City’s domination in the majority of big games this season was one of the biggest reasons for the title win.
After the losses in Liverpool and Wigan, many pundits questioned whether City had the steel to bounce back and stay on track without being derailed. They had the answers to all of those questions, by playing like a wounded animal – a frightening sight for any defence.
The young side may have easily collapsed after getting played off the park at Anfield in January, but no – they responded in the way that all good sides do.
A lot has been said about this over the season, so it doesn’t need an essay-length analysis, but the team spirit was key, and is key, to this title and also future trophy challenges.
Whether it be watching the lads jokingly bully Bernardo Silva in training, or seeing the celebrations after the Carabao Cup win, or watching the celebrations unfold on Twitter as Kompany, Stones, Delph et al celebrate the title win, it is so clearly evident that the players are all best mates.
Pep didn’t just buy players, he bought personalities – Benjamin Mendy the most notable – but Kyle Walker and Leroy Sané all have a massive effect on the team spirit and the mood in the dressing room.
Couple the young banterous figures with the older, experienced players such as ‘Uncle Yaya’ or Vincent Kompany, you have a recipe for success.
There are dozens of other reasons for this title win, but above are some key reasons why City have walked the league, the reasons that will be key to challenging again next season.