Signing Erling Haaland, the Tottenham comeback and watching Arsenal implode: Ten moments that won Man City another Premier League title
Manchester City are Premier League champions again. For the first time in the club's history, they have won the title for a third consecutive season. And this will go down as one of their most memorable triumphs of all.
Even though Pep Guardiola's side clinched the title with three games to spare, it has been far from easy. They have been pushed practically all the way by Arsenal, who no one would have taken seriously as a title rival at the start of the season.
And let's not forget that Mikel Arteta's side enjoyed an eight-point lead over City in mid-January. But thanks to an incredible team spirit and the indomitable presence of Guardiola, who never let his team relax, the Cityzens reeled the Gunners in with a remarkable resurgence in form, helped by beating their title rivals twice.
GOAL charts the key moments of City's seventh Premier League title and their fifth under Guardiola...
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You could say that City won the league on June 13, 2022, the day they officially signed Erling Haaland. It was an open secret that the Norwegian was going to join City, where his father Alfie had also played, and the striker was introduced to fans on stage outside the Etihad Stadium on a scorching July day.
"I'm sure we're going to have a good time together," he told the adoring crowd. "When I have fun I score goals, I win games."
Having just pipped Liverpool to last season's title without having a traditional striker and with Kevin De Bruyne as their top scorer, City had just signed a player who had scored 49 goals in his last two seasons in the Bundesliga. But Haaland has been far more prolific in England, breaking every goalscoring record imaginable.
With a goal monster like Haaland complementing an already formidable team, no one else really stood a chance.
Every title contender needs to lay down an early marker, and City did that in the first Manchester derby of the season, mauling Manchester United 6-3. The derby was the match Haaland said he was most looking forward to when he was presented, and he did not disappoint, scoring a hat-trick and setting up two goals for Phil Foden, who also completed a treble on a dream afternoon for City against their biggest rivals.
United fans could not stomach what they were witnessing and many of them left the Etihad Stadium early, leaving the away end looking bare. For City, it was the first of many big wins of the season against a top side and fired out a warning to the rest of the league.
The Tottenham comeback
City had an unhappy start to 2023, drawing 1-1 at home to struggling Everton on New Year's Eve then being knocked out of the Carabao Cup by Southampton before controversially losing 2-1 to Manchester United at Old Trafford.
They then faced Tottenham while trailing Arsenal by eight points, and conceded two goals out of nowhere to fall 2-0 down at half-time, leading to the fans booing their team off the pitch. Guardiola was utterly livid, but managed to inspire a brutal second-half comeback as City ended up crushing Spurs 4-2 with goals from Julian Alvarez, Haaland and Riyad Mahrez.
But what took place after the match was arguably more important. Guardiola let rip at his players, the club's staff and the fans, bizarrely referring to them as a "happy flowers team" in reference to them being too complacent. The tirade looked like a possible sign that the Catalan was losing the plot, but he was actually looking for a reaction from his players. He sure got it. Since that day, City have dropped just five more points.
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Getting rid of Cancelo
Jaws dropped in the football world when news filtered out in late January that City were going to offload Joao Cancelo to Bayern Munich on loan. The Portuguese left-back had been one of City's best players in the previous two seasons and had made an impressive start to this campaign.
But he was not adapting well to Guardiola's change of system to accommodate Haaland and had lost his place in the team to Nathan Ake. Cancelo had not taken his fall from grace well, and rather than let a bad apple rot the rest of the team, Guardiola cut him loose and sent him to Bayern, effectively strengthening a European rival who his side would end up facing in the Champions League.
But this was a show of strength from Guardiola himself, a demonstration that he was boss and no one could question his decisions. And City have looked like a far more cohesive unit since Cancelo's departure, with Ake and Manuel Akanji playing the role of inverted left-back to perfection.
Premier League charges
The footballing world was left stunned by the news on February 6 that the Premier League had charged City with numerous breaches of its financial rules between 2009 and 2018. The club were threatened with being stripped of their titles and even being relegated from the English Football League.
Many teams might have been rocked by such a seismic announcement, but rather than it derail City's title bid, it ended up galvanising the team. The fans also adopted a siege mentality, creating an extraordinary banner in tribute to Lord Pannick, the lawyer defending them in their legal battle with the Premier League.
Since the news broke, Guardiola's side have not lost a single game in all competitions. That's a 23-game unbeaten run. In the league, they have taken 40 points from a possible 42, winning every match except the 1-1 draw with Nottingham Forest.
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Beating Arsenal with pragmatism
Guardiola sides don't usually surrender their ball to their opponents no matter who they are, but City let Arsenal have most of the ball in the top-of-the-table clash at the Emirates Stadium in February. However, the visitors were smarter than their opponents, and more clinical.
Kevin De Bruyne was quick to pounce on a bad pass from Takehiro Tomiyasu and with one touch flummoxed Aaron Ramsdale to score. After Bukayo Saka had equalised, City again robbed Arsenal of the ball in their own half and produced a lightning-quick break, with Jack Grealish knocking in a pass from Erling Haaland to restore their lead.
Haaland finished Arsenal off with a goal of his own to send City top on goal difference. Just as importantly, they had delivered a huge blow to their rivals' morale, seizing the momentum.
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Thrashing Liverpool without Haaland
Liverpool had been City's nemesis for three of the last four seasons, and in early April they had to face the Reds without Haaland, who had picked up an injury while training with Norway. It was a huge test of City's squad depth at a critical juncture of the title race, with Arsenal still out in front.
Jurgen Klopp's side took the lead in the first half through Mohamed Salah, but City did not panic and Alvarez equalised before De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan and Grealish all struck in the second half to make it 4-1.
Grealish produced one of his best-ever displays in a City shirt. As well as tormenting Liverpool in attack, he made a lung-bursting sprint back from his own area to chase down Salah and block a pass to Diogo Jota which would have almost certainly resulted in Liverpool taking a 2-0 lead.
Coasting to victory as Arsenal implode
Arsenal were still in control of their own destiny in early April, and City needed them to slip up to have the title in their own hands. Despite fighting on three fronts and preparing for a testing Champions League quarter-final tie with Bayern Munich, City eased to victory in their league games at Southampton and at home to Leicester.
Arsenal, meanwhile, began to fall apart. A day after City's 4-1 win at Southampton - when Haaland scored a stunning bicycle kick - Arteta's side threw away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Liverpool at Anfield. The following week, City cruised to victory against Leicester, leading Guardiola to take off half his outfield players early to rest up for the trip to Munich.
The next day, Arsenal surrendered another two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at West Ham after Bukayo Saka had missed a penalty. And later in the same week, the Gunners could only draw 3-3 at home to bottom-of-the-table Southampton. In a matter of three matches, Arsenal had effectively blown their title chances and handed the title on a plate to City, who just kept winning.
Outclassing Arsenal at the Etihad
Arsenal went to the Etihad needing to take all three points to stand any realistic chance of winning the league, but what was billed as a title showdown quickly turned into a cakewalk for City, who ran out 4-1 winners.
The match was only seven minutes old when De Bruyne cut through the Gunners' defence on the counter-attack and curled the ball into the bottom corner. Arsenal could just not cope with City's intensity and Guardiola's side should have scored again before John Stones' struck right before half-time, with De Bruyne and Haaland adding extra shine to the victory either side of Rob Holding's consolation goal.
Arsenal were still two points ahead of City at full-time, but with Guardiola's side having two games in hand, everyone knew the title was now theirs to lose.
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Game over after Goodison
City had an early kick off at Everton on May 14, and despite looking unsettled for the first half hour, they soon romped to a 3-0 win thanks to a header from Haaland and a pair of superb strikes from Gundogan.
An 11th consecutive victory left City needing two more wins to wrap up the title, but Arsenal made things even easier for them as just two hours later they surrendered to a feeble 3-0 defeat at home to Brighton.
In a flash, a once thrilling and compelling title race was effectively over.