Manchester City and Liverpool were locked in battle for the 2018/19 Premier League title. But in one of the highest quality title races in top division history, it was very much a matter of who would blink first as City put together a Herculean winning run, spanning over three months and fourteen games to secure back-to-back titles.
Here’s the story of the remarkable run-in…
City and Liverpool dropped points in the final few days of January, with City suffering a fourth and final league defeat of the season to Newcastle and Liverpool being held to a 1-1 draw 24 hours later. Liverpool had a slender advantage of three points at the top of the table with 13 games to go.
City were able to close the gap over Liverpool to just two points on the opening weekend of February; as Sergio Agüero scored yet another hat-trick with the Champions coming out 3-1 winners over Arsenal at the Etihad. That result coming before Manuel Pellegrini’s West Ham had to settle for a draw against against the Reds at the London Stadium.
Due to participation in the League Cup final, City faced Everton two weeks before anybody else’s 27th game, offering the Blues a golden opportunity to return to the top of table. In an extremely tight affair at Goodison, goals in the closing moments of both halves secured a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Liverpool’s local rivals. The next weekend, Agüero scored his second hat-trick in a week, with an epic first half performance which saw the Blues move into a 4-0 lead with not even half an hour played. In a vintage attacking display – City crushed Chelsea 6-0.
Regaining the League Cup on penalties against Chelsea on Sunday 25th February wasn’t City’s only reason to celebrate, as Manchester United had managed to force a draw against Liverpool at Old Trafford, meaning Liverpool had failed to win their game in hand and went back to the top of the League by just one point.
City returned to Premier League action that midweek, where a second half penalty from City’s all time top scorer was the difference in a 1-0 win over West Ham. City would return to the top that weekend with another 1-0 win, this time on the south coast as Riyad Mahrez’s goal separated both City and Bournemouth. The next day Liverpool suffered a third draw in six games in the Merseyside derby, meaning that if City could win all of their remaining nine games, they would be Champions.
The first three of those nine wins came quite comfortably for City, with them first successfully overcoming Watford in a 3-1 win. 2-0 wins over relegation threatened Fulham and Cardiff City followed, although Liverpool were still also faultless, so there was still no room for error. Raheem Sterling was then to bag at Selhurst Park as City got their revenge against Crystal Palace in a much needed 3-1 win.
Five wins away…
The most perilous part of City’s run was a four-day period at the back end of April, where City would face both Spurs and Manchester United. The game against Spurs felt as if it had much more than a Premier League title riding on it, after City were cruelly dumped out the Champions League just a matter of days earlier by the same opposition, in one of the most agonising and astonishing games in European history. Any European hangover that may had been hinted in pre-match was proved wrong however, as City’s very own Phil Foden scored his first Premier League goal, and the only goal of the game after less than 200 seconds. It wasn’t a comfortable game, with Ederson very much the man of the match, but most definitely a huge three points for Guardiola’s side.
It wasn’t the first time the storyline of a Manchester Derby having a Premier League title at stake had come up, but the plot-twist in this story was the imbroglio that Manchester United were faced with. The Reds were ironically aware the result would determine which of their bitter rivals would be favourite for the title with three games to go as City looked to return to the top of the league with a victory in their game in hand.
After a nervy and goalless first half, the introduction of Leroy Sané early into the second half proved the key, as City finally clicked with Bernardo Silva opening the scoring with a smart low drive early into the second half. David De Gea was then at fault as Sané doubled City’s advantage with Guardiola having now successfully negotiated City’s two toughest tests.
Three to go…
Challenging times were still to come however with both City and Liverpool knowing any mistakes in their final three games would be fatal to ones title quest. The fine margins of this monumental race were exemplified again as City grinded out for a scrappy win at Turf Moor. City had shown off their title credentials again as goal line technology confirmed that Sergio Agüero had managed to force the ball over the line despite Matt Lowton’s best effort in the 64th minute.
The penultimate game of the season, and the last at the Etihad, was against an in-form Leicester City side, led by former Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers – one of two sides to possibly prevent City from regaining the title. In another nail-biting, nervy ninety minutes a valiant Foxes defence was finally breached by the most unexpected yet majestic strikes from captain Vincent Kompany.
In what was to be the final time the legend would grace the Etihad pitch competitively, a stunning sliced effort darted into the top corner to send the Etihad into chaos. There was still however 20 minutes for City to see out and partly thanks to a glaring miss by former City player Kelechi Iheanacho late on, City were now within three points of a fourth Premier League title. The strike that ended up defining the season was the 100th goal City had scored at the Etihad that year as this rampant run went on.
One to go…
For the third time that decade, City went into the 38th and final League match of the season knowing a win would not just see them retain their crown, but also guarantee their place in Premier League history. On a scorching summer’s day on the South coast, City couldn’t help add to the final day drama after falling behind early on to a Glenn Murray header. An almost instant response from, who else, but Sergio Agüero made it 1-1, before Aymeric Laporte’s swarming header made it 2-1 just before half time. In the second half, City were classy and showed exactly why they were worthy winners with a stunning solo effort from Riyad Mahrez and a gorgeous Ilkay Gundogan free-kick sealing a 4-1 victory to cue jubilant and joyous scenes.
A four month period of footballing invincibility from City, who had managed to come within two points of their 100 point tally. A record run of 18 straight wins proved vital to their previous league success. It was the winning of 14 straight games in which they conceded just four times over the period that proved pinnacle in one of the most faultless of finishes. City had come out on top having been remarkably relentless…
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