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Here we are. The final chapter. Strap yourselves in, it’s a biggie.
The month unfortunately begins with a bit of a downer, as Manchester City are knocked out of the Champions League by Real Madrid, after what is, on the surface, a bit of a bottlejob.
Still, City dominated the chances over the two legs and should really have won it, but the Champions League really do be a cruel mistress at times.
For my detailed thoughts, you can read the article I wrote about it at the time here.
But we’re gonna move on from that, because this is a good month. I can feel it in my bones.
Pep Guardiola’s next press conference is before the Newcastle game, which follows Madrid, and it’s a cracker. It’s 20 minutes long but he covers all kinds of topics - where Manchester City are now compared to 20 years ago, CAS, pressure and plenty more. He even answers a question about the upcoming Newcastle game!
It’s strange - it seems as though, much like the press conference immediately after the CAS ruling in City’s favour, these moments of struggle for City are what make Pep love the club more. This club has given Pep some of the more humiliating and excruciating moments of his entire managerial career and yet after every single one of them he comes out swinging, appearing ready to commit himself to the club even more. It’s pretty clear that the challenge keeps him motivated.
That evening, before the Newcastle game, the pressure is really ramped up for City to bounce back after the Madrid defeat, as Spurs help to open the door for Manchester City to break away from the scousers.
So how do City respond? Pretty well, as it turns out.
A couple of goals from Sterling and goals from Foden, Rodri and Laporte see the blues win 5-0 and not only go three points clear of Liverpool but claw back the goal difference which had been lacking in the month or so prior to the Newcastle game. City are, despite the obviously profligacy in front of goal (which still persisted in the Newcastle game, with several chances still missed), starting to bang goals in for fun in the league, having scored 17 goals in their last four games.
ANOTHER set piece goal for Manchester City ✅— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) May 8, 2022
Rodri gets on the end of De Bruyne's corner and it's 3-0! 🔥 pic.twitter.com/bCs5LCRaOY
City finally have a clear lead at the top of the table with three games to go and it looks like we’re going to win the league quite comfortably. What could possibly be better?
Manchester City can confirm that we have reached an agreement in principle with Borussia Dortmund for the transfer of striker Erling Haaland to the Club on 1st July 2022.— Manchester City (@ManCity) May 10, 2022
The transfer remains subject to the Club finalising terms with the player.
The Erling Haaland transfer is finally announced after weeks and months of it slowly beginning to look more and more like City is his destination of choice. It can’t be stressed enough just how much of a hilarious freakish anomaly Haaland is in pretty much every single attacking metric that he can (for more information on this, please speak to @AndrewDettmer).
City finally have a striker. Not just any striker, we didn’t settle for Darwin Núñez just because he’s better than nothing, no. We went for best in class. The top tier. And it just so happens that the top tier striker in the world wants to join Manchester City because he’s been a fan his whole life. Is this real life?
A game at Molineux follows and, angered by the arrival of Erling Haaland as Manchester City’s new striker, De Bruyne decides that it’s time to show that he should have been considered for the role.
"23 minutes of footballing genius" ⭐— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) May 11, 2022
Kevin De Bruyne completes his first-half hat-trick with a ROCKET of a left-foot strike! 🚀 pic.twitter.com/O7Ng9Sy9oP
He scores a hat-trick inside the first 25 minutes of the game, including the absolute rocket above. Once again, a big game and Kev turns up, imagine my surprise. He absolutely runs the game from start to finish and bags a fourth goal towards the end of the game, putting City one step closer towards getting their hands officially on that title which had been wrapped up in January.
Kevin De Bruyne vs Wolves:— City Xtra (@City_Xtra) May 11, 2022
51 Accurate Passes
83.6% Pass Accuracy
2 Key Passes
5 Accurate Long Balls
4 Shots On Target
2 Big Chances Created
1 Ground Duel Won pic.twitter.com/iT6KvfwjXf
Aguero joins Kompany and Silva outside the Etihad, forever enshrined in metal as a statue of his iconic 93:20 celebration is erected (heh). Does it matter that it looks like Toni Kroos in most pictures? Nah, probably not.
Aguero thoroughly deserves this, as both Silva and Kompany did before him. His short-lived Barcelona honeymoon is a shame, as he deserved a few years taking it slow in Spain to wind down his career before maybe a year or two in Argentina. His finishing abilities were up there with the best in the world and he will rightly go down as one of the, if not THE, greatest players the club has ever had.
Sergio Aguero, Manchester City:— City Xtra (@City_Xtra) May 13, 2022
◾️ 390 Apps
◾️ 260 Goals
◾️ 73 Assists
◾️ 83.5 Mins Per Goal Contribution
◾️ 15 Club Honours
◾️ 15 Individual Honours pic.twitter.com/3uGOvzC09O
We’re into the home stretch now, boys. Just two games separating City from official league glory. We just have to avoid dropping points in these next two games and we’re golden.
West Ham at the London Stadium. What could possibly go wrong?
Oh. Alrighty then.
So at half time, all of the stats are flying around. City haven’t recovered a two goal half-time deficit since 1898. Every team that Jarrod Bowen has scored a brace against has never won the Premier League. Mark Noble is playing his final home game for West Ham today and is yet to come off the bench. It felt like a narrative which was desperate to be fulfilled.
So who steps up? Well, it’s a big game and a big moment. That’s right, you guessed it - Jack Grealish.
Grealish hits a volley which, with a fortunate deflection, bounces over Fabianski and into the net. Martin Tyler is thrilled, as you can clearly hear in his voice, as he realises that the title race might actually not be back on again. Still, a consolation goal at best, right?
Of course not. It’s a big game and a big moment. So who steps up? That’s right, you guessed it - Vladimir Coufal.
This is a level of own goal which is so perfectly placed past the keeper that I was genuinely confused as to who had scored. My mind at the time told me that had hit a West Ham player’s head, but as I saw it nestle perfectly into the bottom corner of the net I became convinced that a City player had somehow got something on it instead.
Lo and behold, the replays showed that it was indeed Coufal who had managed to deal the killing blow to Liverpool’s title hopes and bring glory to the nation of Czech Republic.
Then I think the game ended. I’m pretty sure it did. Nothing else to report from the game.
…alright, Mahrez missed a penalty at the end. Our most reliable penalty taker of the last few years missed one of the most important penalties he’s taken since that one at Anfield in 2018. It’s easy to say in hindsight that I didn’t really care that much but, I genuinely didn’t really care that much when he missed. It was a bit of “ha, typical”, but I felt that just getting a point from the game was enough that I didn’t need to feel too aggrieved. We still had the upper hand over Liverpool going into the final game of the season, no matter what they managed to do against Southampton in mid-week.
Thankfully, we were all about to be cheered up by a lovely bit of kit.
Possibly our nicest looking home kit in… well, I can’t remember a nicer one than this. You’re probably going way back. I’ve got to give kudos to Puma here, they may have given us that disgusting third kit which seems to have haunted every terrible moment of our season this year, but for every miss there are three or four hits. It feels like they (again, with the exception of this year’s third kit) care about our kits having some kind of connection to either Manchester or the history of the club, and this upcoming home kit is certainly no exception.
Colin Bell passed away during the covid season and no fans could publicly mourn his death, at least not in the way that they typically would mourn their legends on a matchday. It’s fitting, then, that a whole season’s kit is dedicated to the man who almost everybody who’s watched him live considers the best player that City have ever had.
His tribute was made complete with a video that makes you feel like somebody’s cutting onions right beneath your eyeballs, as Colin Bell’s family are introduced to the kit and given some time to reflect on his career.
Award season is upon us, because why wouldn’t you hand out “of the season” awards before the season’s actually over? That totally makes sense. There’s nothing dumb about this phenomenon at all.
De Bruyne claims the City fans’ Player of the Year for a fourth time, equalling Richard Dunne’s record. For me, it’d be Rodri, for reasons which I outline in the City Xtra End of Season Awards.
The Premier League disagrees with me, however, as Kev is named Player of the Year for them as well. Can’t really argue too much with it when you look at those who were nominated for it alongside him, I think Son or Salah could have had a reasonable claim for it too and I’d not really have kicked up a huge fuss if either of those had won it. De Bruyne is as deserving as anybody, especially given his importance in the crucial part of the season.
The clean sweep is complete as Foden keeps the Young Player of the Year award for himself, winning it for a second year in a row. Maybe a little harsh on the other nominees, as Foden is an unbelievably gifted footballer and was still great this season, but maybe his season wasn’t quite as outstanding as it was last year. Still, he’s the best player who was nominated, so I don’t care.
So, here we are. At last. The grand finale. The endgame. The title race finally being officially recognised as over, just like it was over in January.
The table is finely poised going into the final game of the season. City need to simply win and the title is theirs, regardless of what Liverpool do. A draw for City means that Liverpool need to draw or lose. A defeat for City… well, let’s not be stupid, there’s no chance of that.
The day starts about as well as it possibly can, as Pedro Neto puts Wolves 1-0 up against Liverpool inside the first three minutes of the game. City can truly relax now and just focus on putting this game to bed.
VILLA TAKE THE LEAD!!— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) May 22, 2022
Matty Cash fires in a header to put Aston Villa in front at the Etihad 😱 pic.twitter.com/uULS2aVBmq
Look, it’s fine. We’re only a goal down and Liverpool are now level with Wolves, City are still top of the table as things stand. There’s plenty of time for us to recover this.
TWO NIL TO VILLA!!!— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) May 22, 2022
And it's Philippe Coutinho with the goal! 👀🙈 pic.twitter.com/qMMP0t5c0K
I feel sick. I want to just bury my head in concrete and never have to emerge until the city of Liverpool has been wiped off the planet. Why are City such terrible, spineless bottlejobs? This is Madrid all over again. I knew I wasn’t harsh enough on this team for managing to throw away that Madrid lead. This group of players clearly has no character, no fight, nothing. Absolute bunch of wasters. Why was Fernandinho starting this game when he’s clearly got the legs of a 75 year old man? Sell them all in the summer, Pep. Might as well hand in your notice while you’re at it. You had one job, one job, to just beat Aston f***ing Villa and instead you’re going to let Steven Gerrard and Coutinho give Liverpool the most romantic narrative possible as far as final days are concerned. You’ve ruined my day. Almost certainly my year. Maybe even my life. I hate this club. It’s the worst thing to ever…
So what? What’s Gundogan gonna do? It’s too late now. We’re ruined.
Oh, look at that, it’s 2-1. Great, nice of you all to wake up when it’s absolutely too late. We’re still losing. Cheers though, Gundogan, at least you’ve scored and made it slightly less of an embarrassing defeat. Eerily similar to that goal you scored against Arsenal in one of our first few games of the season, too. That’s mildly interesting.
RODRIIIIII!!!— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) May 22, 2022
Manchester City equalise!! 😰 pic.twitter.com/IcSDFgQw79
Brilliant work from Zinchenko, I love that Ukrainian boy. Absolutely roasts Buendia before laying out on a plate to my personal POTY, Rodri, who almost passes it into the net. Lovely play, lovely finish. Still, utterly irrelevant though isn’t it? Mo Salah’s just been subbed on for Liverpool and they’re going to turn the screw on Wolves, especially now they know the City score. It’s all going to be in vein. Gary Neville can get as excited about that goal as he likes but we all know it’s doomed. You don’t get 93:20 twice. It just doesn’t happen.
🎙️ "ILKAY GUNDOGAN YOU LITTLE DANCER!!" 🕺— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) May 22, 2022
Manchester City turn it around at the Etihad!! WOW!! pic.twitter.com/4tRqwuvJUj
ILKAY GUNDOGAN, YOU ARE MY HERO. I LOVE YOU MORE THAN I EVER THOUGHT I WOULD, MY BELOVED DEUTSCHE FUßBALLMEISTER. HAVE THE KEYS TO THE CITY. TAKE MY SPINE FOR YOUR RUINED BACK, I DON’T NEED A SPINE ANYWAY.
Kevin De Bruyne takes the big moment in the big game by the scruff of the neck once again and somehow, somehow, keeps hold of the ball and plays it perfectly to the back post while being knocked off balance. Gundogan makes the back-post run which is basically his signature move at this point and, unlike certain other players in certain other big games when presented with a tap-in at the back post, he makes no mistake and taps it in.
Manchester erupts as even United fans, currently wallowing in the fact that their terrible team is losing to Crystal Palace on the final day, are glad not to see Liverpool win the Premier League. Gundogan knee slides. Phil Foden is screaming into the crowd ahead of him. Cancelo is losing is mind. De Bruyne is telling everybody to keep calm. Gary Neville cries out, “Ilkay Gundogan, you little dancer!” Everything is right with the world.
The final whistle blows and a pitch invasion begins and it is at this point that Steven Gerrard, fresh from picking himself up from another title-deciding slip in his career, decides to show just how truly bitter he is by claiming that his goalkeeper was seriously injured by a fan during the spree and forcing City to release a statement mid-celebration. The footage of the incident is eventually found and it shows that absolutely nothing noteworthy happened and Villa quickly rescind their initial anger and say they will not be pursuing the matter further. Still, nice attempt to ruin the moment, isn’t it Stevie?
The title celebrations have a lot of great moments but, for me, none top the scenes with Zinchenko’s outpouring of emotion for Ukraine.
"I will NEVER forget this, never in my life" 💙— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) May 22, 2022
Oleksandr Zinchenko talks through his emotions... pic.twitter.com/LRF4aOzmrm
He gives an emotional interview where he says, “I would die for these people”. You know what, Zinchenko, if it wasn’t for my job and my girlfriend and my mortgage and my knowledge that I’d be nothing more than a crying burden in the middle of a warzone, I’d sign up for the foreign legion right now and fight for your motherland. However, all of the above are quite relevant, so I’ll have to pass for now.
For Zinchenko to put in a performance off the bench like the one he did, with the pressures on him from a questionable Liverpool performance the month before and also just the general pressures of life which he’s been enduring for the last few months, is nothing short of incredible. The man has my complete and utter respect. As long as he remains happy with whatever his role at the club is, I don’t want to see us ever sell him.
Pep, however, sends out an ominous message to the rest of the league…
"And wait because next season it's FIVE substitutions and you will see how genius I am" 👀— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) May 22, 2022
Oh, Pep 🤣 pic.twitter.com/fdL0HThLFZ
We’ll all see how much of a genius he is when, when given the option to use five subs, he only uses one in the 90th minute to give Liam Delap a token three minutes off the bench. That’ll be the true measure of Pep’s genius.
In all seriousness, this league isn’t ready for what Guardiola could do with five substitutions. The flexibility it provides him in terms of a tactical switch-up with three subs coming on at once, with two to spare in case of injury, is a scary proposition for the rest of the league to consider. This is before you even factor in that City actually have strikers now. Strikers.
Jack Grealish gives a brilliant interview to the Sky panel, talking quite openly about his struggles this season and what has almost been an identity crisis for him and the way he plays.
"In my head I'm thinking I can't lose this ball" 🤔— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) May 22, 2022
Jack Grealish says at times this season he has played it safe... pic.twitter.com/IAiTP9Io9f
It’s great to see him talk so openly and honestly about it and these are issues Pep has referenced in multiple press conferences over the season. It’s a confidence thing and it’s something which lots of players who are joining Pep’s side, particularly in those positions on the wing, struggle with. I’m confident we’ll see a new Grealish next season - one who’s had a season to adjust and has grown assured within the team around him. It’s always felt a bit like he feels lucky to be there and almost doesn’t feel like he deserves it. But he definitely does.
The Grealish content doesn’t end there, however, as the following day brings the trophy parade. Naturally, only 100 people who John Aldridge affectionately refers to as “plazzy fans” turned up, which pales in comparison to Liverpool’s attendance of 9,000,000 in the streets of Liverpool, as you can see from the numerous pictures from 2019’s trophy parade that they were quick to share on social media.
The day was top tier for content nonetheless, it kind of felt like the whole thing was a laid back, casual, “let’s all have fun” kind of vibe, which is very different from what a lot of the official club media tends to be. It’s mostly all very polished and proper, however when you’ve got Jack Grealish fresh off a night on the town and trying to cure the hangover by doubling down on alcohol consumption, it’s never going to be close to polished.
My top three Jack Grealish moments of the day begin with him on top of the coach, fighting through his ruined vocal chords to thank a few people for the title win.
Poor Bernardo gets the brunt of it, with Grealish thanking him for being so terrible that he’s subbed off, allowing Gundogan to come on in his place. The fact he’s barely able to speak, the fact he taps John Stones to make sure he doesn’t miss the punchline, the fact he just outright calls one of his teammates crap in an interview, hilarious.
The second is on the stage, when Mahrez asks Walker who could beat him in a one-vs-one.
Jack Grealish: “Me when I was at Aston Villa [beat Kyle Walker in a one-vs-one], that’s why Pep signed me!” 😂👏pic.twitter.com/DstYY46his— City Xtra (@City_Xtra) May 23, 2022
Grealish coming in to take the microphone and confidently saying that it was him roasting Walker than led to Pep signing him, again, just brilliant. Grealish is clearly a lad who’s absolutely loving life, this is the moment that he joined Manchester City for and got a lot of abuse from people all over the country, even fans of the club he gave nearly a decade of his career to, for deciding to do so. He’s absolutely right to bask in the glow of it.
The third and final moment comes as Grealish is introduced onto the main stage, with a bottle of beer in the other and a mixer in the other, dancing his way onto the stage, looking like he’s halfway through a bender in Ibiza. He’s now in my top three favourite City players for these moments alone. Unreal content.
So, there you have it. The season is over, and what a season it was. We may have only (“only”) won the one trophy but it was a crucial one. Pep’s strikerless team won back-to-back titles, ensuring that we’ve won four of the last five, which is a level of dominance which hasn’t been seen since the days of Ferguson’s United. We’re living in the good times.
We’ve not just got strikers coming in, we’ve got two of the most exciting young strikers in world football about to join the club. One of which is THE undisputed best young striker in world football, a gangly Norwegian monster who’s going to give this team a whole new dimension.
And with this man at the helm? Well, who knows what could happen.
Featured Image Credit: Xinhua / Alamy
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