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Four-midable City makes history

Guardiola steers his indomitable charges to unprecedented top-flight title run

China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-21 09:39
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Kyle Walker lifts the Premier League trophy, sparking wild celebrations as Manchester City wins a record fourth successive title. City defeated West Ham United 3-1 in the final round of the league in Manchester on Sunday. REUTERS

MANCHESTER, England — Manchester City fans could hardly stand the wait for the final whistle.

Not because they feared a last-minute twist and the unlikeliest of comebacks from West Ham.

The tension during the dying moments of the Premier League season at Etihad Stadium was simply because fans couldn't wait to get the party started, after Pep Guardiola's dominant team secured an unprecedented fourth successive English top-flight title.

A 3-1 win on the day made certain of the record, and soon a sea of light blue shirts flooded the field. Flares and the smell of sulphur filled the air as delirious fans danced, posed for selfies and simply savored the moment — ignoring the futile pleas from the stadium announcer and messaging on the big screens instructing them to return to their seats.

Winning has become a familiar feeling in these parts, and there is no sign of it getting old.

"It feels just as amazing as the first one. We worked so hard for it," City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne said. "It has been a tough battle with Arsenal and Liverpool this year, and, you know, to be here again doing something historic is amazing."

This latest league title is also the sixth in seven seasons for Guardiola, who has won 17 trophies and counting since heading to the blue half of Manchester in 2016. That number could rise to 18 as soon as next week, when City plays its crosstown rival, Manchester United, in the FA Cup final.

In all, Guardiola has won 38 trophies as a coach at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and City, bolstering the case for him to be considered the greatest manager of his era. By comparison, Carlo Ancelotti has won 28, including a record four Champions League titles — one more than Guardiola — with the chance to make that five when Real Madrid meets Borussia Dortmund in this year's final on June 1.

"Everyone in football is in awe of his (Guardiola's) coaching, but there is more to it than that," outgoing West Ham manager David Moyes said. "Four in a row is incredible."

Another question that will be debated long and hard is whether this City team should be considered English soccer's greatest of all time.

No other English team has won four titles in succession. Not during Liverpool's dominant era in the 1970s and 80s — and not during United's reign in the 90s and 2000s.

That alone sets City apart — and by winning the Champions League last season, it has also collected a full set of major trophies during an era of unprecedented success.

"In terms of numbers, nobody has been better than us — the records, the goals, the points and four in a row," Guardiola said. "If I land here tomorrow and you say I will win six Premier Leagues in seven years, I would say 'are you crazy?' It's impossible. We have done something unbelievable."

Guardiola took over a team that, after being bought by the ruling family of Abu Dhabi in 2008, was among the wealthiest in the world and had already won two Premier League titles. He has gone on to create a near-unstoppable force domestically that continues to hold off challengers to its throne.

Arsenal has taken up the fight, previously offered by United, and then Liverpool — and pushed City to the wire this season, having fallen away during the run-in last season.

Still, Mikel Arteta's team couldn't quite get over the line, finishing two points shy of the champion after its 2-1 win against Everton on Sunday.

Arsenal looks likeliest to push City closest in the coming years, especially now that Jurgen Klopp has stepped down at Liverpool, while Manchester United's period of upheaval looks set to continue.

Whether Arsenal will be able to go one better in the future remains to be seen, given City's financial clout and the age of its key players, like footballer of the year Phil Foden and back-to-back Premier League Golden Boot-winner Erling Haaland.

"We got the message from Mikel and his players. We have to make the right decisions in the coming years, because they are here to stay," Guardiola said. "They are so young and have experience in the Champions League. For two years (they) were close."

How long Guardiola stays on could have a major bearing on City's ability to maintain its iron grip on Premier League. His contract runs until the end of next season.

The outcome of the 115 charges made against City for alleged financial wrongdoing could also be significant. City refutes all of them.

That battle is off the field and still to come.

Right now, as far as City's fans are concerned, another party has only just begun.

So close

Arsenal could do no more. A 2-1 win against Everton at Emirates Stadium meant City had to beat West Ham to retain its title. It also meant the Gunners lost just once from the turn of the year to the end of the season.

That 2-0 home defeat against Aston Villa proved to be decisive though, giving City an advantage it never relinquished.

"What can I say? I feel sorry for all the Arsenal fans. We gave our best, but it wasn't enough," Arsenal forward Kai Havertz said. "Maybe in two or three months we can say it was a good fight. Right now, I feel like we deserve more."

Having spent $138 million on Declan Rice, and also recruiting Havertz ahead of this season, Arteta will have to weigh up how to improve his team further.

A prolific striker may be his priority, but his team only scored five fewer goals than City and ended with the same goal difference.

"Now we have to be more determined, very courageous, very ambitious, and we need to go to a different level. We need to deliver," Arteta said.

Klopp's farewell

Klopp's Liverpool reign ended with a 2-0 win against Wolves.

While his farewell campaign ultimately ended in disappointment as Liverpool's title bid fizzled out, Klopp's status as an Anfield and Premier League icon is secure.

The German is standing down after winning a full set of major trophies in eight-and-a-half years at the club.

"When you are in it, you forget sometimes how great it is," Klopp said. "You take it for granted. Now I stand here, I'm just so happy I'm a part of the club's history. It's wonderful."

With Champions League qualification already secured, fourth-place Aston Villa was routed 5-0 at Crystal Palace.

Tottenham, in fifth, ended the season with a 3-0 win at last-place Sheffield United.

Agencies Via Xinhua



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