An ecstatic Pep Guardiola hailed Manchester City as ‘legends’ after winning the Premier League title in dramatic fashion. His side came from two goals behind with 14 minutes remaining to beat Aston Villa 3-2, beat Liverpool by a point and retain the Championship, the final whistle was met with pandemonium from fans who invaded the ground.
The triumph moved Guardiola to tears, marking the second time since taking over in the summer of 2016 that City have successfully defended the title and a fourth Premier League crown in five years.
When Philippe Coutinho scored in the 69th minute to add to Matty Cash’s opener in the first half, an afternoon that began in jubilant mood sent City teetering on the brink of disaster. Yet they somehow rallied, with Ilkay Gündogan, a 68th-minute substitute, the hero as he scored twice.
The German struck in the 76th minute, then Rodri equalized 120 seconds later, before Gündogan netted a memorable goal nine minutes from time. This created the scenes of pure joy for City fans when the game was finally over. Liverpool’s win at home to Wolves meant victory was needed to seal the title.
Guardiola said: “Four Premier Leagues – these guys are legends already; people have to admit it. This group of players is absolutely eternal at this club because what we have achieved is so difficult.
“First 100 points [in 2017-18]second to Brighton [final day, 2018-19]the third one with no one and this one with no one [is] the best.
“It’s the fifth anniversary of the Manchester Arena [bombing]. It’s a special day for us; we want to share it with the families who suffered from this terrible event.
“I want to congratulate Liverpool for what they have done. The magnitude of our achievement is due to the magnitude of this rival. It makes us prouder because we know which team we are up against and we are incredibly happy. .
Guardiola was asked if he had any doubts at 2-0. “Of course, many thoughts, so difficult; I always felt like we needed a goal,” he said. “It’s the hardest game to win – you have to close something that took 10 months. Serving to win Wimbledon is the hardest, tennis players say, and it was the same today.
About the atmosphere, Guardiola said: “The best I’ve experienced since I’ve been here. Today was so special. Hope tomorrow [at the victory parade] we’ll 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 said he won’t decide to sign a new one until then. Asked about the possibility of accepting a new one soon, he replied: “Now golf. All I play for when we start the competition is to win. We had a feeling the rivals would be so tough; next season will be more difficult. We are going to prepare but for the moment I do not have the energy and the desire. We are champions again.
Fernandinho started as a centre-back in his last game for City. The captain, who lifted the trophy, referred to City’s famous victory a decade ago when Sergio Aguero’s 94th-minute strike made them champions. On that occasion Roberto Mancini’s side trailed 2-1 at home to Queens Park Rangers and secured a 3-2 victory with two goals in stoppage time.
“You never give up and we always believed in that today,” said the Brazilian, who has won the title five times. “It happened 10 years ago and today it’s a little different. It’s a great feeling. We came back from the dead today. Surprising. It’s a very emotional day for me. I am so grateful to City. For sure, they will always be in my heart.
Oleksandr Zinchenko, who replaced Fernandinho at half-time, praised the club for their support after Russia invaded his native Ukraine.
“These are unforgettable emotions for me, for all Ukrainians,” said the defender. “They are starving, they are trying to survive in my country because of Russian aggression. I am so proud to be Ukrainian. It means everything to me, honestly.
Zinchenko said of his teammates: “I would die for these people – what they did for me during that time, the hardest time of my life, I will never forget.”
Villa manager Steven Gerrard, who has spent most of his playing career at Liverpool, said: “I think we did everything very well until the 70th minute. We decided to go into a shell of protection, if you will, to survive rather than really opening it up to our keeper and trying to play so obviously I’m really disappointed that we had it in our hands for 70 minutes.