Al-Hilal overcome Al-Ittihad to blow Saudi Pro League title race wide open
Pure Hollywood ending to Premier League race as Manchester City are pushed to the limits by Liverpool
When Manchester City won the Premier League title a decade ago in iconic fashion through Sergio Aguero’s injury-time winning goal against Queens Park Rangers, the saying “We’re Man City, we’ll fight ’til the end” was born — and subsequently became the club’s mantra.
Never was it more evident again than on Sunday as the Etihad Stadium witnessed yet another emotional, unbelievable, unscripted finale that was pure Hollywood with all the sub-plots and twists.
While not quite as definitive and dramatic as Aguero’s magical moment that sealed a 3-2 comeback victory on a similarly unforgettable final day of the 2011-12 campaign, the crucial contributions of Ilkay Gundogan to this season’s triumph will be enshrined too in footballing folklore.
Needing victory to confirm a fourth league title in five seasons, Pep Guardiola’s City overturned a 2-0 deficit to an Aston Villa side managed by Liverpool hero Steven Gerrard with three goals in the last 14 minutes — and in the space of just five minutes and 36 seconds.
With Liverpool beating Wolves 3-1, Gundogan’s close-range finish in the 81st minute proved decisive to deny Jurgen Klopp’s Reds by a point. It was his second goal after heading in the first, while Rodri leveled with a precise low drive.
“It’s definitely got to be up there with Sergio’s moment,” said Phil Foden. “It just shows the incredible character of us as a team, how much we want it and how much we fight for each other — and for everything involved at this club.
“The team that Pep has built, we always keep believing until the end. Not many teams could do that.”
Foden is right and, arguably, only Liverpool and Real Madrid come close currently.
With such belief, City can exude brilliance even when behind or below par. With spirit allied to style, they have the attributes for success.
Guardiola used words such as “legends” and “special” to describe his side — and there should be no doubt or debate about that.
City are serial winners, dominating the Premier League in the manner of Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson. Relentless and ruthless, racking up 93 points and 99 goals this season, their greatness needs to be recognized and respected, especially in how they once more staved off Liverpool’s ferocious challenge under pressure to claim a sixth title since 2012.
City’s Algerian winger Riyad Mahrez, whose fourth title put him level with Didier Drogba for the most by an African player, said: “Liverpool are a superb team. I know they hate us. They’re sick of us because if we weren’t here, they would’ve won everything every year.
“But we’re here and we’re never letting go — and we’ll be here next year too.”
“Never in my life have I found a team like Liverpool,” added Guardiola, who shed tears after his 10th career domestic title triumph with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and City.
“They make us a better team, make us think more, work harder and handle the quality they have.”
Midfielder Gundogan, whose memorable week also saw him get married, played under Klopp at Borussia Dortmund.
And he said: “If Liverpool didn’t play the incredible football they’ve been playing, I don’t think this league would have been that attractive. We pushed each other to the limits. We need to appreciate what they have done.”
In congratulating the Abu Dhabi-owned team, owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al-Nahyan described them as “distinguished,” and Guardiola said, “We will defend our crown again and again.”
It is that mindset, ambition and willingness to further improve that makes City an exceptional team in the current era.
While some critics may never accept this due to their spending or be appeased until they win a Champions League, their domestic achievements — 14 major trophies since Sheikh Mansour bought them in 2008 — should not be belittled by the struggles in Europe.
The same applies to Liverpool and their extraordinary efforts in this campaign, despite failing to secure a 20th top-flight title.
Klopp said they played an “insane season,” and it seems difficult to envisage a team getting this close to a historic quadruple of trophies again.
Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham, Arsenal and Saudi Arabia-backed Newcastle will no doubt have a greater say in the future.
There may be disappointment for Liverpool in finishing second after their FA Cup and League Cup successes, but no shame after a titanic battle for top spot.
When they lost the title to City by a single point three years ago on the final day, they went on to lift a sixth European Cup by beating Tottenham.
“Of course, losing the league increased the desire to put it right next week,” said Klopp, whose side face Real Madrid in the Champions League final on Saturday.
If history is repeated — and a treble completed — in Paris, it would be equally deserved.
It would also again highlight how Liverpool and City have raised the bar in European club football over the past five years through their rivalry and desire for honors.
Others should strive to match that quality, not condemn it.
“What I learned about life is if you stay on track, if you keep going, you get the reward,” added Klopp.
“The only thing you can do in this league is you have to constantly develop. We have to carry on and will be an even more difficult team to play against. Playing in a league with Man City that’s crazy, difficult, but that will not stop us trying next season again.”
The contest promises to be just as enthralling and intriguing, especially with Guardiola — like Liverpool forwards Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane — not yet committed to extending his contract beyond next season.
And there is also the arrival of goalscoring phenomenon Erling Haaland to the Etihad and the Premier League.
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