Manchester City wrapped up the title on Sunday without lifting a finger, as rivals Manchester United suffered a shock 1-0 defeat at home to relegation-threatened West Brom, handing the trophy to Pep Guardiola’s side.
City have not relinquished top spot in the Premier League since the fifth week of the campaign, having won 28 of their 33 games played so far, wrapping up the title with five matches to spare.
With 93 goals scored and some big wins along the way, including a 5-0 success against Liverpool, a 6-0 victory away at Watford and a 4-1 win against Tottenham Hotspur, City have provided plenty of entertainment on their way to winning the league title for the first time since 2014.
Here, our writers, Chris Bailey, Tom Biggs and Aditya Devavrat have their say on just how good this Manchester City side is, and what’s next for Guardiola’s men.
Is this Manchester City side the best Premier League team of all-time?
CB: Don’t let recency bias fool you into thinking that City’s class of 2018 are anything short of spectacular. Two of their three defeats on the bounce came against an inspired Liverpool in the Champions League – and they simply took their eye of the ball in the Manchester derby. Remember instead their 18-match winning streak, the countless clobberings of their ‘rivals’. No team has married style and substance quite like City.
TB: Guardiola and his City side have set the benchmark for others to follow. They have dismantled those around them – bar narrow defeats to Liverpool and United – and simply bullied everyone outside the top six. Their play, possession and passing has mesmerised and amazed. Should they set the record points total, as they are likely to do, there’ll be no question that this City side is the greatest the Premier League has ever seen.
AD: It’s hard to look past Manchester United’s Treble-winning side of 1998/99 and Arsenal’s Invincibles from 2003/04 in this debate. City have been imperious and just about all-conquering this season, and if they get to 100 points they’d merit a place in the conversation, just as the current record-holders for points in a season, Chelsea from 2004/05, do. At best, they’ll get into the top three – which is no small feat.
Can they be stopped in the Premier League next season?
CB: For sheer probability’s sake, the Sky Blues won’t have it quite so easy next season. But what should trouble the rest is how young their core is – Ederson, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane all 26 or comfortably under. It doesn’t mean that they have the perfect squad, of course, as they would do well to heed the lessons learned by an all-conquering Real Madrid – who bought no one in the summer and have been embarrassed in La Liga.
TB: The onus will be on Manchester City’s rivals. They have dominated against the league’s lesser sides this season, dropping just six points against those outside of the top six, while United have dropped 17 and both Liverpool and Tottenham have missed out on 15 points. If City’s rivals don’t improve against weaker opposition, Guardiola’s side will be ready to become just the third club to retain the Premier League title.
AD: Recent history suggests the answer to this question is yes. The same question was asked after Chelsea dominated the league last season, and two years before that. Both times, another team successfully took up the challenge. City’s consistency over this season will be hard to replicate – for City themselves. Liverpool, United and even Tottenham will feel they are only a few adjustments away from reaching City’s level, and Chelsea will also expect an improved showing.
What does Pep Guardiola need to do for them to conquer Europe?
CB: Not panic – as good as Liverpool were over the two legs, they hardly cast doubt on Guardiola’s methods. City were caught flat-footed at Anfield and the tie was more or less decided within half an hour. While the infamous attack on that bus cannot be blamed entirely for the collapse, it certainly didn’t help. In the second leg, a bizarre bout of team selection tinkering backfired. Guardiola needs to stay true to himself. Even in a perfect year, though, the Champions League is no sure thing.
TB: Keep it simple. Guardiola overthought his tactics for the first leg against Liverpool and they were unable to recover after a simply stunning 45 minutes from Jurgen Klopp’s side. Defensively they must be more resolute, but the key will be to simply produce their Premier League displays on the European stage. With the experience of the shock elimination to Liverpool behind them, Guardiola’s side will be in better shape come crunch time next season.
AD: It’s difficult to see what Guardiola can do differently. The changes he made in his team selection against Liverpool were born out of a desire to ensure even more control of a game; essentially, his Plan B was to take Plan A to the extreme. It’s been six straight Champions League campaigns where someone has managed to successfully counter this – it’s up to Guardiola to decide whether he sees a pattern or six one-off results.
However, rudderless and managerless West Brom caused the shock of the season as Jay Rodriguez secured a remarkable 1-0 win at Old Trafford, sparking wild celebrations across the blue half of the city.
It was a gut punch for Jose Mourinho‘s men, leaving them needing to strengthen their hold over second spot at Bournemouth on Wednesday before Saturday’s Wembley date against Tottenham in the FA Cup semi-finals.
Mata is determined to bounce back, but knows “any comments made after the (West Brom) game sound like hollow words”.
“Some Mondays are happy, and some others are not,” he wrote on his blog. “This is one of the latter.
“We played a bad game this Sunday. There’s not much to add. There’s nothing to detract from West Bromwich, but we didn’t live up to our expectations.
“It’s disappointing, even more after the win last week, but this is football.
Hi. Here is my latest post. One Hour Behind: ‘No excuses, a disappointing week’. https://t.co/27iMOtsw6S
— Juan Mata García (@juanmata8) April 16, 2018
“That’s why it’s so important to keep the right balance in the good and in the bad times.
“Congratulations to Manchester City, who are mathematically the Premier League winners.
“We will keep focusing on two goals from here to the end of the season: keeping the second place and trying to get to the FA Cup final and to win the title.
“In order to do that, this new week is really important.”
United’s limp display irked Mourinho and the manager said overconfidence was key in allowing the beleaguered Baggies to secure just their fourth league win of a dreadful Premier League campaign.
The Red Devils were praised for overcoming a terrible first half and two-goal deficit to spoil City’s title party at the Etihad Stadium last weekend, although some of their players patently took their eye off the ball in the wake of that 3-2 win.
Put to Mourinho that confidence would have been high after the Manchester derby, the United boss told MUTV: “Too high. Too high.
“Too high because when you win a match that gives you nothing, it just gives you three points, but you react in a way that it looks like you won something really important, you pay the price.”
Congratulations to Manchester City on their Premier League title win.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) April 15, 2018
Provided by Press Association Sport
That their team handed the Premier League title to bitter rivals from the blue half of the city won’t have angered Manchester United fans – it is that the promise of better times to come next season might prove to be just another false dawn.
The Premier League trophy began to slip away from United as early as October 14, following a gutless display that somehow yielded a point in a 0-0 draw at Anfield.
Traditionalists, however, were embarrassed. This was not the United way. As if mocking their rivals from the red half of town, Manchester City annihilated Stoke 7-2 hours later.
United got their comeuppance by losing two of their next three and they were eight points behind on November 5.
The title was gift-wrapped for City two days before Christmas when the Red Devils conceded a stoppage-time equaliser against 10-man Leicester to fall 13 points behind – the biggest points gap between first and second place at Christmas in English top-flight history.
City are worthy champions, having been head and shoulders above their neighbours as well as the rest of the league this season. That will be sufficient pain for United fans, but they can just about live with it.
However, meek surrender, at home, to a team doomed to relegation and Championship football next season, is something they can’t, and shouldn’t have to.
West Brom had won three games all season prior to Sunday. Their last victory was against Brighton in January. It was their sole triumph in 31 previous matches.
Victory at Old Trafford for the managerless Baggies – 12 points from safety prior to kick-off – moved them onto 24 points, the same tally Watford mustered in the 1999/2000 campaign, which is the fifth-worst total in Premier League history.
Immeasurably worse for United is that Sunday’s catastrophe was preceded by the performance of the season, a comeback that ranks among the greatest in the proud history of a club that epitomises ‘never say die’.
Roaring back from a 2-0 half-time deficit in the belly of the blue beast at the Etihad the previous Saturday to grab a precious 3-2 victory and deny Pep Guardiola’s side the title. That euphoria has been erased by the West Brom defeat.
United lurched from the spine-tingling, to the spineless. How could they have fallen so far in eight days?
Manager and players must take equal blame.
We interrupt your Sunday evening to bring you... https://t.co/41FtlNdYTK— Manchester City (@ManCity) 15 April 2018
After a stirring performance that United fans had been waiting to see from Paul Pogba since he arrived back at the club he calls his home against City, the Frenchman looked like he was in an unfamiliar place and got hauled off shortly after half-time. It wasn’t a kneejerk reaction by Mourinho.
Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young, though disciplined and diligent defensively, which ranks high with the manager, are not natural full-backs.
When they received possession (Valencia, with 102 touches, had the joint most of any United player) they were ponderous, often choosing to stop, check and pass sideways rather than attack an opponent.
Young is hampered further by being a right-footed player, playing at left-back, so his unfamiliarity with the position means his tendency to overlap diminishes still further.
Against inferior opposition, why wasn’t Luke Shaw thrown in to at least give him some minutes and Young some rest bite, while offering United more natural width and penetration?
Alexis Sanchez wasn’t the worst player in a red shirt and tried to spark his side into life. That he couldn’t conjure anything against an abysmal West Brom side though begs the question why he consistently keeps Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial out of the starting line-up
And all of this with a looming FA Cup semi-final next weekend against Spurs – the team who have been arguably the second-best team to watch this season after City.
The tie that couldn’t come soon enough following the City win has suddenly filled United fans with fear and dread once again.
It will define whether the season, and possibly even Mourinho’s reign up to now, has been a successful one.
In a decent campaign that has been overshadowed by City’s brilliance, last week’s heroics were billed as a battle cry ahead of next season, a sign of brighter days ahead under the Portuguese, a defiant statement that United will not simply roll over and watch City dominate the domestic landscape for the foreseeable future.
Was that game or Sunday’s abject defeat the anomaly? We’ll learn more on Wednesday when United go to Bournemouth, and more so next Saturday at Wembley.
What a peculiar week it’s been in the Manchester football bubble. United’s victory was sandwiched between two convincing City defeats to Liverpool that Reds fans will dine out on for years to come.
But having had a taste of their own medicine in defeat to the Baggies, it’s now time for Mourinho and United to bounce back.