(Reuters) – BRIGHTON & HOVEALBION 1 MANCHESTERCITY 4
Manchester City clinched the Premier League title with the win required to finally end Liverpool’s relentless attempt to dethrone them as champions by crushing Brighton & Hove Albion 4-1 on the south-coast on Sunday.
Pep Guardiola’s City ended the season with 98 points, two shy of last season’s record-breaking 100, while Liverpool’s 2-0 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers saw them finish on 97 — by far the largest tally for a Premier League runners-up spot.
Such was Liverpool’s tenacity in the title race that it took an incredible 14th straight league victory for Abu Dhabi-owned City to become the first club for a decade to retain the title.
Neither side had dropped a league point since Liverpool were held to a 0-0 draw at Merseyside rivals Everton on March 3.
Goals from Sergio Aguero, Aymeric Laporte, Riyad Mahrez and Ilkay Guendogan gave City a comfortable victory in the end after a brief moment of panic in the visiting ranks when Glenn Murray’s header gave Brighton a surprise 27th minute lead.
But cometh the moment, cometh Aguero.
The Argentine striker, whose last-gasp goal secured City’s first Premier League title in heart-stopping fashion seven years ago, levelled 83 seconds later and Aymeric Laporte’s thumping header put City ahead before the break.
With Liverpool, who began the day one point behind, leading against Wolves, the Anfield club would still have hoped for something extraordinary to happen in the south-coast sunshine.
But when City winger Mahrez drove an unstoppable shot past Brighton goalkeeper Mathew Ryan’s despairing dive just past the hour and Gundogan’s majestic free kick found the net in the 72nd minute the City fans could get the party started.
City have now won four league titles in eight seasons but captain Vincent Kompany, whose sublime shot earned a crucial 1-0 win over Leicester City on Monday to keep his side’s fate in their own hands, said this was the most satisfying of them all.
“Back to back, it was the hardest and most satisfying ever. Liverpool were exceptional this year. I don’t mean to rub it in — they didn’t deserve to lose,” Kompany said.
“But we played against such a good team all season and until now we were able to stay in front.”
Spaniard Guardiola can now became the first manager to claim the English domestic treble if City beat Watford in next week’s FA Cup final, having already scooped up the League Cup.
City had begun the day looking uneasy and, with Brighton’s fans chanting that Liverpool had taken the lead over Wolves, an incredible week of football drama looked like it had one last twist, especially when Murray headed home an inswinging corner.
Two hundred and seventy miles north, Liverpool’s fans hardly had time to start dreaming before David Silva, City’s master craftsman, slipped in Aguero who fired under Ryan.
Suddenly the swagger returned to City and after Mahrez’s shot was well saved by Ryan, the resulting corner saw defender Laporte power home only his third league goal of the season.
Brighton centre back Lewis Dunk reminded City of the precariousness of the situation with a dipping free kick that keeper Ederson did well to turn over on the stroke of halftime.
But after the break it was all City.
Mahrez, the magician behind Leicester City’s incredible title triumph in 2016, cut in and let fly with his right foot to spark delirium from the City fans packed in behind the goal.
City have now taken an almost unbelievable 198 points in the last two seasons and Gundogan’s free kick took their goal tally in the last two Premier League campaigns to 201.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis and Ken Ferris)