Manchester City dragged their supporters through a gamut of emotions before capturing their fourth Premier League title in five years with a stirring 3-2 win over Aston Villa on Sunday.
On one of the most intense final days in Premier League history, Kevin De Bruyne had the presence of mind to slide the ball across for Ilkay Gundogan to score the 81st-minute goal that would eventually secure City’s breathless comeback victory. Five minutes earlier, City were two goals down to Steven Gerrard’s side and facing the prospect of surrendering the title in deeply embarrassing circumstances.
The result meant Liverpool’s nervy 3-1 home win over Wolverhampton Wanderers couldn’t trouble Pep Guardiola’s first-place side. City won the title by a single point.
City weren’t themselves for the majority of Villa’s visit. Fernandinho, in his last appearance for the club, was vulnerable at center-back. City’s attackers struggled to make an impression while the Villans defended stoutly. And Aston Villa threatened to burst forward each time they got hold of the ball and resisted the home team’s press.
It was a swift attack that put City on the back foot. Aston Villa quickly moved up the gears from defense before Lucas Digne’s teasing cross was powered home by Matty Cash’s head.
City still had a tentative grip on top spot at halftime despite the one-goal deficit. With Liverpool only drawing 1-1 against an out-of-form Wolves on Merseyside, Guardiola’s outfit was ahead of their northwest rivals on goal difference.
But City made it more difficult for themselves. They entered the second half with more impetus, stronger for Oleksandr Zinchenko replacing Fernandinho at the break, until former Liverpool favorite Philippe Coutinho punctured the hosts’ growing belief and stunned the Etihad Stadium.
Robin Olsen smashed his goal kick long upfield, Ollie Watkins beat Rodri to flick the ball on, and Coutinho skipped inside Aymeric Laporte before putting Villa 2-0 ahead in the 69th minute.
Liverpool were still level with Wolves, but a goal from the Reds seemed an inevitability. City’s title – after being 14 points ahead in mid-January – was slipping away.
But City evoked memories of their comeback against Queens Park Rangers from a decade earlier, offering a three-goal punch that began in the 76th minute.
Gundogan, who was brought on in Bernardo Silva’s stead just moments before Coutinho’s goal, started the fight back when he rose at the far post to meet Raheem Sterling’s cross with a bullet header.
Rodri then leveled the game. Zinchenko wriggled his way toward the box from the left flank before picking out the Spaniard on the edge of the box. Rather than a customary smash from Rodri, he coolly side-footed the ball into the bottom corner.
Then, everything that went on down the M62 in Liverpool wouldn’t matter. De Bruyne collected a spillage from the edge of the area, powered through three Villa players, and passed the ball across the goal. Gundogan tapped home, firmly establishing himself as a legendary figure in Manchester City’s history.