Instead, rivals and neighbours United enjoyed their own crowning glory as they went from chumps to floor the champions-elect.
Goals from Vincent Kompany and Ilkay Gundogan had got the title party started as City took a lead many thought was commanding. Then United, and particularly Paul Pogba, showed up to silence their ‘noisy neighbours’ with three second-half goals and give Jose Mourinho the last laugh on his old sparring partner Pep Guardiola.
“The manager didn’t have to say much at half time as we knew ourselves as players it was a poor performance,” revealed match-winner Chris Smalling afterwards. “He said that we didn’t want to be the clowns standing there watching them get their title.”
Mourinho’s pep talk sparked a comeback that defied belief.
Kompany’s opener typified the characteristics of the player and man that he is after battling injuries, outmuscling Chris Smalling and showing far greater desire to meet Leroy Sane’s left-wing corner. David De Gea had no answer here as the ball rocketed past him.
City took control and if that goal demonstrated their grit, the second reflected their guile.
Sane seized on a weak clearance from De Gea, Gundogan exchanged passes with Raheem Sterling and, with a show of balance and elegance, left Nemanja Matic standing with a clever turn to create space for a poked finish into the corner.
City were cruising yet became careless. Sterling, starting after being left out against Liverpool, was the main culprit, firing over twice when clear and then straight at De Gea.
Gundogan also headed at the United keeper from close range before clipping the angle of post and crossbar with a curling effort.
How City were made to rue those missed opportunities as Pogba and Sanchez came to the fore. Big signings, big games and they proved to be big players.
Ineffective as they were in the first period, they were inspirational after the restart.
Sanchez worked an opening on the right and his cross was chested down perfectly by Ander Herrera into Pogba’s path and he slotted past the advancing Ederson in the 53rd minute.
Two minutes later, United were level. Pogba engineered a break and was in the box to collect a floated Sanchez cross and head home his second.
From being derided for failing to justify his £89 million fee, the Frenchman was deadly. From being a shambles, United shone as they claimed a third in the 69th minute.
Sanchez swung over a left-wing free-kick and Kompany left Smalling this time and the centre-back volleyed in.
14 - David de Gea has conceded 23 league goals this season (excl. OGs), but based on Opta xG data for the shots on target he's faced, the average goalkeeper would've been expected to concede 37 goals. This is the biggest differential by a PL goalkeeper in 2017-18. Match-Winner. pic.twitter.com/SRC8VpsKEQ— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 7, 2018
Stunned, subdued, City stepped up again. Ashley Young, who had escaped an earlier penalty claim for handball, went in strongly on substitute Sergio Aguero and prompted several clashes.
And then came a late charge that almost spared City’s pain with De Gea making an astonishing save to deny Aguero and then Sterling touching onto the post from a couple of yards and seeing the rebound fall to the Spanish keeper to clear.
Manchester celebrated at the end, but it was those in red as Mourinho played down Guardiola’s claim that Pogba had been offered to City in January by his agent Mino Raiola.
“If the accusation from his agent is that he wants to go to other clubs, his price has gone up,” said the United boss. “I’m not interested in if it was Pep or Mino right, I’m not interested in that. Of course, two goals for a midfield player in a big match like this one stays in the memory of the people, especially the fans. He needs that confidence because he knows, I know, he had some performances not at the level of expectation we have from Paul. But he’s improving.”
He added: “It’s an important victory, it’s a good victory, I think deserved, but I don’t see more than that. I was telling before the game we need points to finish top four and to finish second. We won points probably in the most difficult place to get points.
“Next season we have to improve even more, because this season we improved in relation to last season, more points and more victories, more goals scored, less goals conceded, better results against the top five teams, we improved at every level, but it was not enough. That’s why I congratulate Manchester City, because they are going to win the title and deserve to win the title. I hope they win against Tottenham.”
Having lost 3-0 to Liverpool in their Champions League quarter-final first-leg tie last Wednesday, the Etihad outfit blew a two-goal lead – and the chance to clinch the Premier League title – with a 3-2 defeat to second-placed rivals Manchester United.
Guardiola was as stunned as his stars as City capitulated after being dominant. But he said they were ‘professionals’ and have to pick themselves up for the European return with Liverpool on Tuesday.
“We are going to try, if we are brave enough and focused to stand up again on Tuesday.
“I tell them we are going to try guys. I was a football player I know how hard it is how they feel. How uncomfortable it is. I just say like all of the season, I love and like to be with them. Nothing else.
“Of course you have bad moments, and in the last two games when we have bad moments, every time the opponent arrives they score a goal. They shoot four times on target and score three goals. When this happens it is so complicated.
“This is tough mentally. We are a young team. A team to create and not to defend. After that we overcame situations and create chances. The last actions – good save from [David] De Gea and the last action it was unbelievable how we didn’t score the goal. We have the feeling we did absolutely everything. the game was good. But in the that level, in the first half when you have these chances, you have to score goals to finish the game.”
He added: “I am sorry for the fans, but I think they cannot have complaints about what we have done. When I analyse the game it was good. I cannot expect the opponent is not going to do anything.
“For the fans it is tough and maybe we are going to get more credit if we are able to win the Premier League to say how tough it is to win. In November, December everybody said the Premier League is done. But it was a tough, tough fight to keep going every weekend to be focused.”
As poor as the Red Devils were in the opening 45 minutes – City’s 2-0 interval advantage was the least they deserved for a rampant display – Jose Mourinho’s men were magnificent in the second 45.
Vincent Kompany – a scorer on this ground against the same opponents as City clinched a maiden Premier League title six years ago – headed the hosts in front, with Ilkay Gundogan turning and firing in a fine second in a rampant first half display.
They should have been home and hosed but a different United showed up for the second half, with Paul Pogba’s 90-second brace leveling the score with 10 minutes of the second half gone.
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-3-3)
David De Gea – 7: Poor distribution put his side in trouble on a few occasions, but stunning save from Aguero underlined his status as the world’s best
Antonio Valencia – 5: Given the runaround by Sterling with United’s back four all at sea. Steered his side through choppy waters to a swashbuckling victory
Chris Smalling – 6: Weak for the opener, positional naïvity led to second. Old failings revisited but was reviltalised after the break and calm finish for winner
Eric Bailly – 5: Easily United’s best central defender but below par here. Pulled around by Sane and Sterling, but bounced back in second period
Ashley Young – 6: Epitomised United’s two halves. Horribly exposed in first. Committed and heroic in the second. Lucky an overzealous tackle on Aguero didn’t result in red
Ander Herrera – 7: A shock inclusion considering he’s played twice in six weeks. Stifled City attacks and got under opponents’ skins. Sumptuous assist for Pogba
Nemanja Matic – 6: Looked past his prime as City sauntered forward in the first half, but reined in their marauding midfield after the break
Paul Pogba – 9: United’s one bright spark even in a forgetful first half. Led the comeback. Why can’t he play like this all the time?
Jesse Lingard – 6: One of the few United players who would have felt truly hurt at half-time. A relatively docile display but energy levels never dipped
Romelu Lukaku – 6: Horribly isolated in the first half, Mourinho pushed team-mates closer to him after the break and he brought them into play
Alexis Sanchez – 8: Another week, another telling contribution to a game. Two assists from the Chilean turned it on its head
Marcus Rashford – 6: Little time to make an impact but worked hard going forward and back
Scott McTominay – 6: Not overawed in his brief cameo
Victor Lindelof – N/A: Pushed on as an auxiliary midfielder in stoppage time