Why Manchester City was deservedly crowned Premier League champions
The expected happened on Sunday, albeit at an unexpected time and place. Rock-bottom West Bromwich Albion's 1-0 win at Old Trafford saw Manchester City crowned Premier League champions.
It's been an incredible season for Man City. Pep Guardiola constructed a machine to take the Premier League by storm. The Catalan-born coach turned an immensely competitive league into a one-team show. Having achieved similar feats in Spain and Germany, with Barcelona and Bayern Munich respectively, not many believed he could replicate it in England. After going empty-handed in his debut season at the Etihad, Pep's ability to dominate English football was further called into question.
However, Guardiola responded to critics in the way he knows best - masterminding scintillating performances on the pitch. It has all been well planned. The City boss carefully went about rebuilding his team. He couldn't afford to fail.
From the goalkeeper, defence through to the attack, the side had to learn a new way - the Guardiola way. Those who could not fit the system were sent packing.
Joe Hart was among the first players in the firing line. His inability to play from the back and perform as a sweeper keeper left the Englishman surplus to requirements. His replacement, Claudio Bravo, failed to live up to expectations, however. The Chile international made a series of costly mistakes. A new solution was needed.
In the defence, Eliaquim Mangala was sent out on loan. The same applied for midfielder Samir Nasri and striker Wilfried Bony. In came John Stones, Ilkay Gundogan, Leroy Sane and Nolito. Brazilian youngster Gabriel Jesus arrived the following transfer window from Palmeiras.
The changed team could only manage a third-place finish in the Premier League. Guardiola had gone the season trophy-less for the first time in his managerial career. But he had identified the problem and knew how to fix it.
For this season, Guardiola laid more emphasis on strengthening the back. Starting with a reliable sweeper keeper, Man City signed Ederson from Benfica. Tottenham Hotspur right-back Kyle Walker also arrived at the Etihad; Monaco's Benjamin Mendy and Real Madrid's Danilo linked up to add further quality in the full-back areas. With several other signings made, including Portuguese midfielder Bernardo Silva, City had spent almost £220 million.
Older players, including Willy Caballero, Bacary Sagna, Aleksandar Kolarov, Gael Clichy and Fernando were let go to make room for new recruits. City's core remained untouched, however.
A unique mix of the old and new incorporating Guardiola’s instructions produced a monster. The Citizens swept all opposition aside. With only one defeat in 31 games, they were ready to win the Premier League on home turf against Man United.
City's fans came ready to party. Everything went according to plan in the first half. The champions-elect raced to a two-goal lead against United, a side familiar with delivering poor performances this season. However, a different Red Devils entered the pitch after the interval. Two Paul Pogba goals followed by a third from Chris Smalling turned the game on its head. City fans were stunned. Despite winning the title still a question of if not when, a chance to taunt their biggest rivals had been blown.
Man City have improved in every facet this season, with each player performing beyond expectation. The loss against Man United was an anti-climax, though. Even more so given that it came during the same week as suffering Champions League elimination to Liverpool. However, like all great champions, City rose above the disappointment to defeat Tottenham 3-1 in the next match. It meant a loss for United at home against West Brom would hand Guardiola's side the title.
Few, if any, expected United to come up short against the league's bottom team. But that is exactly what happened.
Guardiola has given English football a tactical masterclass. After providing the footballing world with a season to remember, Manchester City will deservedly lift the Premier League trophy.