In the end, it was a canter. Twenty minutes gone, and Liverpool were losing. Forty minutes gone and City were winning. There would be no repeat of the nail-biting finish two seasons ago, no late heroics. In the end, all that there was continuity: the trophy stayed in Manchester, just moving across the city on the Metrolink.
Manchester City only led the league for 15 days in total this season, but it was enough. They were many punters’ pre-season favorites, and they showed why as the season hit the final stretch, shrugging off a loss to Liverpool and a draw against Sunderland to reel off five straight wins. They showed patience and calm game after game, never getting too high or too low after a result.
Notably, Manuel Pellegrini didn’t even talk about winning the title until last Wednesday, after they took Aston Villa apart in a clinical manner. City also scored goals — 102 of them this season — while they defended with tenacity (Liverpool lost this title because they were unable to close up their leaky back line, proving once again that you cannot simply outscore every opponent). Under Pellegrini, they have shrugged off both uncertainty and the sometimes-constipated style displayed under Roberto Mancini, a man who often seemed to be playing not to lose rather than playing to win.
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This is a team that boasts depth, grace and power, and while there are questions over how the sanctions UEFA has imposed upon them for violating Financial Fair Play rules will impact their European campaign, it must be said that this City has a bit of a whiff of dynasty about it.
Vincent Kompany acknowledged as much after the match, saying, "We are building a club. Not just a team that wins trophies every now and again. Next year we need to be even better. If you want to be a big club then this must be one of so many."
They also have ambition in spades, building world-class facilities in Manchester and sending their tentacles out into America and Australia to enhance the City brand. "Big teams cannot be satisfied with one title," said Pellegrini simply after the match. "This club and players deserve more."
Make no mistake, this is no longer the star-crossed club of Alan Ball or Josh Benson, which once tumbled into the third tier. This is an emerging global power.
The irony is that as Manchester remains the nexus for English football, what is arguably the bigger, grander team — that one on Busby Way — are entering a new period of uncertainty. The only salve to United’s wounds is the knowledge that Liverpool didn’t win the title either, cold comfort indeed.
Louis van Gaal is expected to be trotted out at Carrington soon, and he must oversee a world-class rebuild, with as many as nine stalwarts exiting, and gaps to be filled at nearly every position. It would be foolish to count out United — a team, after all, with Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata on their books — but there are clearly deep problems at Old Trafford and it’s unclear if anyone really has a handle on how to fix them.
The bright success of Sir Alex Ferguson still puts all comers in the shade, and the fact that the old man glowers down on the new men every game does give you the sense of a club trapped between the present and the past. Painful decisions — perhaps even severing the last ties to the fabled class of 1992 — lay ahead in the coming months for United, who now enter a new era out of Europe, out of top six, and with a dreadful job to clamber back.
Anyone who suggested this turn of events a few years back would have been thought mad. The ‘story’ was easy: City were the nouveau riche, petrodollars buying a club and making it plastic; United — despite the dollars bled out by their American ownerships debt-financed takeover — were the blue-chip team regardless of what color uniforms they wore. Today, that take looks woven from whole cloth. United are the distressed asset and City, with a new franchise bowing in New York and a seemingly limitless appetite for the sport, are coming off as careful and prudent stewards. It is mad, indeed.
And then there’s the question of who can stop City? Chelsea look to be undergoing a transition of their own, caught between the ‘anti-football’ of Jose Mourinho and the machinations of their fickle owner. Arsenal seem unable to get past their own limitations, consistently deluding themselves that they need to make no more than ‘minor tweaks’ to a team that does a swan dive nearly every season. Liverpool, if we’re honest, overachieved. They were wonderful, but it is difficult to believe that they will not struggle with the pressure of Europe back on their plate. And does anyone really think Daniel Levy’s nervous management can make Tottenham a contender? So just who else is there?
As it stands, Manchester looks as if it will remain the focus of English football — but not over near Salford Quays. Fans had better get used to heading East from Piccadilly in the seasons to come. The noisy neighbors are just getting started.