Man City pushed all way by Liverpool in tense title battle
Manchester City have ended the season as many expected but their latest title success has been no repeat of last season’s Premier League procession.
When City raised the bar to a previously unimaginable height last term, another cakewalk seemed possible this time around.
Liverpool were mentioned as the most likely to push them, but with Pep Guardiola’s exhilarating City side showing hardly any drop in quality, few could have expected the Reds to take the battle to the wire.
It has taken 98 points for City to emerge triumphant from one of the most remarkable title races the competition has seen. Jurgen Klopp’s brilliant Liverpool team have finished runners-up with 97, an incredible figure that no champion side had even reached until City clocked up 100 last year.
In terms of standards and consistency of the top two, there has been no other season like it.
Liverpool, chasing a first league title since 1990, pushed City very hard, losing just once all season. That defeat, however, was at the hands of City on a crucial night at the Etihad Stadium in January. Victory then would have given the Merseysiders a 10-point lead at a time when City were looking vulnerable but, like the champions they are, Guardiola’s men struck back.
Liverpool gave as good as they got but were beaten 2-1 in an engrossing encounter when an astonishing goalline clearance from John Stones – the ball failing to cross the line by a miniscule 1.12cm – made a huge difference.
Even after that, Liverpool still had their destiny in their own hands until a goalless draw at Everton in the first week of March handed the initiative to City.
At that time it seemed inconceivable that neither side would drop points again, but that is what happened as both reached an incredible level of consistency amid intense pressure.
So, the advantage may only have been slender – and the scheduling of fixtures meant the lead frequently changed hands – but City did not relinquish their grip.
It was compelling fare which made the battle below them for the remaining top four places poor by comparison. Tottenham and Chelsea were the sides that eventually stumbled over the line.
For Spurs, after keeping pace with the title contenders until the new year, it was far too close for comfort. At least with the new stadium finally delivered and Mauricio Pochettino apparently committed, there were still plenty of positive signs.
It was more of a consolation prize for Chelsea, who endured a mixed campaign under new boss Maurizio Sarri.
Arsenal and Manchester United missed out. Replacing Arsene Wenger at Arsenal was a tough challenge for Unai Emery but form in the middle third of the season suggested the relationship could be successful.
The direction of United is unclear after a surge but then a slump under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, although his arrival at least alleviated the negativity of the Jose Mourinho era.
At the bottom, Huddersfield were unable to defy gravity any longer and lost their manager David Wagner prior to relegation. Fulham went through the trapdoor with them after failing to adjust to the top flight and an ill-fated dalliance with Claudio Ranieri.
Cardiff took their fight for survival to the penultimate weekend but ultimately Brighton were just out of reach.
In contrast, Wolves thrived following promotion and they will be among the top-half sides reflecting on positive campaigns.
The season will also be remembered for two tragedies. Leicester owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was killed in a helicopter accident in October and Cardiff’s record signing Emiliano Sala lost his life in a plane crash in January.