An ecstatic Pep Guardiola hailed Manchester City as “legends” after claiming the Premier League title in dramatic fashion. His team came from two goals behind with 14 minutes left to beat Aston Villa 3-2, pip Liverpool by a point and retain the championship, the final whistle met with pandemonium from fans who invaded the pitch.
The triumph moved Guardiola to tears, with this the second time since he took over in summer 2016 that City have successfully defended the title and a fourth Premier League crown in five years.
When Philippe Coutinho scored on 69 minutes to add to Matty Cash’s first-half opener, an afternoon that began in jubilant mood had City teetering on the edge of disaster. Yet they somehow rallied, with Ilkay Gündogan, a 68th-minute replacement, the hero as he twice scored.
The German struck on 76 minutes, then Rodri levelled 120 seconds later, before Gündogan scored a memorable winner with nine minutes remaining. This set up the scenes of sheer delight from City supporters when the match was finally over. Liverpool’s win at home to Wolves meant victory was required to seal the title.
Guardiola said: “Four Premier Leagues – these guys are legends already; people have to admit it. This group of players are absolutely eternal in this club because what we achieved is so difficult.
“First one 100 points [in 2017-18], second one in Brighton [final day, 2018-19], the third without people and this one with people [is] the best.
“This is the fifth anniversary of the Manchester Arena [bombing]. This is a special day for us; we want to share it with the families who suffered in this terrible event.
“I want to congratulate Liverpool for what they’ve done. The magnitude of our achievement is because of the magnitude of this rival. That makes us feel more proud because we know which team we face and we are incredibly happy.”
Guardiola was asked whether he had any doubt at 2-0 down. “Of course a lot of thoughts, so difficult; always I had the feeling we needed a goal,” he said. “This is the most difficult game to win – you have to close something that has taken 10 months. Serve to win Wimbledon is the most difficult, say the tennis players, and it was similar today.”
Of the atmosphere, Guardiola said: “The best I lived since I was here. Today was so special. Hopefully tomorrow [at the victory parade] we will celebrate with cigars and beer – I’ll bring my cigars, don’t worry.”
Guardiola’s contract expires at the end of next season and the 51-year-old has previously stated he will not decide whether to sign a new one until then. Asked about possibly agreeing a fresh one soon, he said: “Now golf. All I play for when we start the competition is to win. We had a feeling the rivals will be so tough; next season will be tougher. We’ll prepare but right now I don’t have the energy and desire. We are champions again.”
Fernandinho started at centre-back in his last game for City. The captain, who lifted the trophy, referenced City’s famous title win a decade ago when Sergio Agüero’s 94th-minute strike made them champions. On that occasion Roberto Mancini’s team were 2-1 down at home to Queens Park Rangers and snatched a 3-2 win with two goals in stoppage time.
“You never give up and we always believed it today,” said the Brazilian, who has won the title five times. “It happened 10 years ago and today’s a bit different. It’s a great feeling. We came back from the death today. Amazing. It’s a really emotional day for me. I’m so grateful for City. For sure, they’ll always be in my heart.”
Oleksandr Zinchenko, who replaced Fernandinho at half-time, praised the club for supporting him after Russia’s invasion of his homeland, Ukraine.
“It’s unforgettable emotions for me, for all Ukrainians,” the defender said. “They are starving, they are trying to survive in my country because of Russian aggression. I’m so proud to be Ukrainian. It means everything for me, honestly.”
Zinchenko said of his teammates: “I would die for these people – what they have done for me in this period, the toughest period of my life, I will never forget this.”
Villa’s manager, Steven Gerrard, who spent almost his entire playing career with Liverpool, said: “I think we did everything ever so well up until the 70th minute. We decided to go into a protective shell, if you like, to survive rather than to really open it from our goalkeeper and to try and play so, obviously, I’m really disappointed that we had it in our hands for 70 minutes.”