Pep Guardiola’s side proved their mettle by recovering from an agonising loss to Real Madrid to pip Liverpool to the title in incredible fashion
Pep Guardiola’s tears and wild celebrations on the pitch showed just how much it meant for Manchester City to win another Premier League title.
It may be the fourth in five years, but it was yet another grueling test for City to hold off an incredible challenge from Liverpool.
Way back at the start of the campaign, a summer-long pursuit of Harry Kane following the departure of Sergio Aguero ended in failure.
At that point, some felt City were not the obvious favorites among a tough pack of contenders, including Liverpool, European champions Chelsea and last season’s runners-up Manchester United, who had been boosted by the arrivals of Cristiano Ronaldo and Jason Sancho.
However, by Christmas, they were well clear and a title race looked unlikely until Liverpool started chipping away at their advantage, finally overtaking them when their games kicked off earlier at the tail end of the season.
Some pundits questioned City’s character but they held their nerve in a breathtaking final game, when they scored three goals in six minutes to overturn a 2-0 deficit against Aston Villa to secure another championship in the most dramatic of fashions.
Player of the Season:
More often than not, City’s strength lies in the way they all work for a common goal – running hard, playing unselfish passes and keeping their cool is what makes them so effective.
However, sometimes individuals do come to the fore, and it’s usually those who have taken a massive step forward after belatedly getting to grips of the demands of Guardiola’s taxing football philosophy.
Joao Cancelo is a case in point. He’d been solid since his arrival from Juventus in 2019, but became a star in 2020-21 thanks to his virtuoso displays as an attacking full-back, both on the left and right side of the defense.
The holding midfield role has always been important throughout Guardiola’s coaching career and Rodri has now developed into the intelligent, rounded player he demands, stopping danger as well as creating chances.
The Spain international was responsible for some of the biggest moments of the season – an injury-time winner at Arsenal, a stunning late tackle on Fabinho at Anfield and a questionable handball at Everton!
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But it’s hard to look past Kevin De Bruyne as City’s most influential player.
After a difficult start following a painful ankle injury, he grew into the season and by the time he scored four goals at Wolves in a performance for the ages, he was simply unstoppable.
Goal of the Season:
Guardiola says there is no such thing as perfection in football but sometimes his sides go very, very close.
One such example was Bernardo Silva’s brilliant goal at Aston Villa when City went from one end of the pitch to the other in six seconds of scintillating, sexy showboating.
Rather than head a Villa cross to safety, Cancelo flicked the ball to Riyad Mahrez. The Algerian audaciously dribbled the ball into his own box, drawing two players before finding a clever pass inside to Fernandinho.
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The Brazilian’s first-time pass picked out countryman Gabriel Jesus, who looked up before floating a perfect cross into the stride of Bernardo.
Ignoring the obvious option to control the ball, the midfielder boldly side-footed a sumptuous volley from the edge of the box into the top corner, giving Emiliano Martinez no chance.
City at their peerless best, it was just utterly exquisite from start to finish.
Performance of the Season:
There were plenty of big victories that set City up for the narrowest of title triumphs – not least the final-day drama against Villa. But that was Guardiola’s side showing their determination rather than their brilliance.
Wins at Chelsea and two draws against Liverpool when they were the better side, showed their qualities against the very best.
But if you want to enjoy the City side showing their style and swagger, the 7-0 victory over Leeds United in mid-December is hard to beat.
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Leeds were struggling and two months away from sacking coach Marcelo Bielsa, but the dismantling of the Argentine’s team was nonetheless impressively clinical and staggeringly brutal.
De Bruyne, Bernardo and Phil Foden simply had too much quality for Leeds and it was a night that Jack Grealish will want to emulate more often in his second season at the Etihad.
Disappointment of the Season:
While the Premier League trophy was secured, there will be plenty who will say Guardiola is a failure until he delivers the Champions League trophy.
Last season saw them reach the final for the first time and they were on their way to at least match that achievement until a crazy two minutes at the Santiago Bernabeu.
City were the better side over two legs against Real Madrid but the Spanish champions have had an incredible run to claiming the trophy and Guardiola was caught up in the cyclone that powered them to success.
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After leading 2-0 inside 11 minutes of the first leg at the Etihad, Real were let off the hook with a 4-3 defeat that gave them hope in the return game.
Still, City were better and a 73rd-minute goal seemed to have finally killed them off for good, with chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak revealing that even Real counterpart Florentino Perez had congratulated him.
But Rodrygo struck twice in injury time and, from then on, there was only going to be one winner and Karim Benzema’s penalty inflicted a painful exit and another tale of heartbreak for Guardiola and his players.
To achieve a Premier League trophy without a recognized striker deserves huge credit. To do it ahead of a Liverpool side that went so close to a quadruple deserves even more.
While there are some concerns that City are potentially turning the Premier League into a monopoly, it belittles the quality of their rivals who came so close to stopping them.
European failure is a disappointment for Guardiola and for many players who have chased it for so long and come up short.
But winning one of the two big trophies on offer can never be taken for granted and can not be seen as anything other than a major achievement.