View from the terraces

A stunning end to the Premier League season

How Man City pipped Liverpool to the title on a wild final day

The final afternoon of the 2021-22 Premier League season began with top-placed Manchester City leading Liverpool by a single point, said Phil McNulty on BBC Sport. Pep Guardiola’s side knew that a win at the Etihad Stadium – against Aston Villa, a side managed by Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard – would guarantee them their fourth title in five years. A draw or a loss, on the other hand, would almost certainly hand the Reds – who were taking on Wolves at Anfield – their second title in three seasons. 

In the event, City got the victory they needed, beating Villa 3-2, said Henry Winter in The Times. Yet such a summary doesn’t begin to do justice to the “nerve-draining” route they took to that destination. With just 14 minutes remaining, Villa were 2-0 ahead – thanks to a first-half goal from Matty Cash and a wonderful 69th-minute effort by another former Liverpool player, Philippe Coutinho. Although at this stage Liverpool were 1-1 against Wolves – meaning that City were still theoretically heading for the title, on account of their superior goal difference – no one expected things to stay that way. And indeed, two late goals at Anfield gave the Reds three points. City’s predicament was therefore stark: their hopes of winning the title depended on scoring three quick goals. 

What happened next was scarcely believable, said Martin Samuel in the Daily Mail. “It was as if a switch had been flicked.” City, who up to that point had been a pale shadow of their usual selves, “suddenly woke up to the looming catastrophe”. In the space of five surreal minutes, they took the league out of Liverpool’s hands by finding the back of the net three times. First came a header by Ilkay Gündogan, set up by a “good, early cross” from Raheem Sterling. Next came an impeccably controlled side-footed effort by Spanish midfielder Rodri. And then Gündogan completed the job with the “simplest conversion”, after the indefatigable Kevin De Bruyne had spotted him “lurking again at the far post”. Much of the credit must go to Guardiola for a trio of inspired second-half substitutions, said Jason Burt in The Daily Telegraph. Gündogan and Sterling had both been introduced after the break, as had Ukrainian left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko – who provided the pass for Rodri’s goal. 

As the “wildest of celebrations” got under way at the Etihad – including an ugly pitch invasion, during which Robin Olsen, Villa’s keeper, was struck in the head by a City fan, and one of the goals was dismantled – it was “impossible to ignore” the historical parallels, said David Hytner in The Guardian. In 2012, needing a victory on the final day to secure the title (this time with Manchester United lying second), City had trailed Queens Park Rangers 2-1 before scoring twice in stoppage time. “I swear you’ll never see anything like this ever again,” commentator Martin Tyler had famously declared on that occasion, following Sergio Agüero’s 94th-minute winner. City, admittedly, didn’t leave it quite so late this time, said Owen Slot in The Times. But for sheer improbability and drama, this was surely the equal of the “Agüerooooo moment”. It was “another day when football held your attention and so shook you, you could not quite believe it”. What a fitting end to a magnificent season. 

Liverpool, for their part, will go into Saturday’s Champions League final against Real Madrid carrying an “unmistakable sense of regret”, said Andy Hunter in The Guardian. But for City’s remarkable comeback, that match would have represented a chance for the Reds to fulfil their dream of an unprecedented quadruple. They may yet win the treble, but it must be galling to end the season with 92 points – the third highest points total in their history – and yet again finish in the runner-up spot. To make matters worse, they may well have to play Real Madrid without their “great maestro of the midfield”, Thiago Alcântara, said Sam Wallace in The Daily Telegraph. The Spaniard “headed straight off the pitch” on Sunday after injuring his Achilles tendon late in the first half, and was “hobbling quite a bit in the post-match lap of appreciation”. With Fabinho, Liverpool’s other key midfielder, also doubtful for Saturday, Liverpool have their work cut out if they are to atone for their Premier League heartbreak by becoming champions of Europe. 

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