LONDON: Manchester City retained the Premier League title in style on Sunday, holding their nerve to come from behind and thrash Brighton to hold off a charging Liverpool after a nailbiting campaign.
Pep Guardiola’s team won 4-1 at Brighton to finish with 98 points — the second-highest total in Premier League history — as Liverpool beat Wolves 2-0 at Anfield to finish a single, agonising, point adrift.
City, who strung together 14 league wins at the end of the season, are the first side to retain the title since their bitter rivals Manchester United managed the feat in 2009, and remain on course for the first domestic treble in English football history.
But Guardiola’s team of aristocrats did not have it all their own way on a day of drama on England’s south coast in keeping with an astonishing season in which the lead switched hands time after time.
Liverpool drew first blood on Sunday, with Sadio Mane striking in the 17th minute to put them mathematically top of the table and on course for their first English top-flight title since 1990, before the Premier League era even started.
City fans’ nerves were shredded even further when Glenn Murray put Brighton in front from a corner in the 27th minute, drawing a huge roar at Anfield.
But those cheers were quickly muted, with Guardiola’s side level just 83 seconds later, Sergio Aguero staying onside and keeping his cool to finish after a brilliant ball from David Silva.
Ten minutes later, the unmarked Aymeric Laporte rose to head in Riyad Mahrez’s corner to complete the turnaround for City.
Guardiola’s side continued to dominate at the start of the second half and were rewarded when Mahrez smashed in a third City goal with 27 minutes to go.
Ilkay Gundogan then blasted home a free-kick to put the result beyond doubt.
– ‘Hardest Premier League’ –
“Back to back… I think it was the hardest, most tough Premier League ever,” City captain Vincent Kompany told Sky Sports.
“Liverpool was exceptional. I don’t meant to rub it in, it is what it is, they didn’t deserve to lose.
“It makes me so much more happy that we played such a great team all season. We had our backs to the wall, we won at the Etihad and today we were able to stay in front.”
City announced they would celebrate with their own fans at their Etihad Stadium later Sunday
Guardiola’s side broke a host of Premier League records in romping to the title last season, becoming the first team in English top-flight history to reach 100 points and finishing a record 19 points clear of Manchester United.
This term has been a totally different campaign, with City digging deep to see off the relentless challenge of Liverpool, who have lost just one Premier League game all season.
The champions have ground out a number of 1-0 victories in recent weeks, showing they have added steel to their style.
The outcome was cruel on Liverpool, who are second behind only United in the all-time list of English champions with 18 titles.
Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, who shared the Premier League Golden Boot award with team-mate Mane and Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after they all scored 22 goals, said: “We only lost one (league) game all season. We gave everything. We got 97 points. We will fight next season for the title.”
The Merseysiders’ points tally is the third-highest in Premier League history.
Jurgen Klopp’s side travelled to face City at the Etihad in January with the chance to open up a 10-point lead but the defending champions won 2-1 in what turned out to be the pivotal match of the campaign.
Liverpool suffered a blip in late January and February, held to a series of draws, but they found their form again and relentlessly harried City, finishing with nine straight league wins.
Klopp’s team will have to put the disappointment behind them as they prepare to face Premier League rivals Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League final in Madrid on June 1.
Elsewhere on the final day of Premier League action, Spurs made mathematically certain of a place in the top four, drawing 2-2 against Everton.
Arsenal beat Burnley 3-1 while fellow Europa League finalists Chelsea were held to a goalless draw at Leicester.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United finished their season with a whimper, losing 2-0 at home to relegated Cardiff — a side he once managed.
There were also wins for Crystal Palace, Newcastle and West Ham. Southampton and relegated Huddersfield drew 1-1. —AFP