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.”
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