The 3,400 minutes that preceded it must have, at times, been pure purgatory. Yet for 20 minutes, at the end of this match, the fans of Manchester City could relax.
They were going to do it. They were going to win. They were going to get the 98 points needed to land the title in this most astonishing of seasons.
But first, how about Liverpool? One defeat all season, 97 points and yet, somehow, still not quite good enough. That is the team that Manchester City had to overcome to retain the first title in their history. That is the level they had to attain.
Manchester City’s players celebrate on the pitch after the final whistle as they were confirmed as Premier League champions
Pep Guardiola celebrates with a member of his coaching staff as City are confirmed as champions again in Brighton
The Premier League trophy is carried out after the match as they prepare to present it to the Manchester City players
Aymeric Laporte headed Manchester City into the lead for the first time on Sunday afternoon on their way to securing the title
Ryan was unable to get down and save Laporte’s pinpoint header into the bottom corner of his net on Sunday afternoon
Riyad Mahrez then bagged City’s third from the edge of the area to put them into a comfortable position on the south coast
Glenn Murray had opened the scoring at the AMEX Stadium after knocking a corner past Ederson with his head
Sergio Aguero equalised very shortly after, sliding the ball past Mat Ryan and into the back of the Brighton goal
Guardiola, the City coaching staff and the rest of their team show their delight after Mahrez’s fine strike
Ilkay Gundogan wheels off in delight as he celebrates his excellent free-kick that confirmed City would be champions again
PLAYER RATINGS, LEAGUE TABLE AND MATCH ZONE
Brighton (4-5-1): Ryan 5; Bruno 6 (Montoya 84), Duffy 5, Dunk 5, Bernardo 5; Knockaert 5, Gross 6.5, Kayal 6, Bissouma 5, Jahanbakhsh 7 (Locadia 67, 5); Murray 7 (Andone 67, 5)
Subs not used: Button, Bong, Burn, Molumby
Manager: Chris Hughton 6
Man City (4-1-4-1): Ederson 7; Walker 6.5 (Danilo 88), Kompany 8.5 (Otamendi 86), Laporte 8, Zinchenko 7.5; Gundogan 9, B Silva 7.5, Sterling 7, D Silva 7 (De Bruyne 78), Mahrez 8.5; Aguero 8.5
Subs not used: Muric, Stones, Sane, Jesus
Manager: Pep Guardiola 8
Ref: Michael Oliver 7
Ratings by Jack Gaughan
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Liverpool are, without doubt, one of the greatest teams the competition has ever seen. On points, the third best. Without a straight 14-game winning run to close out the campaign, City would have fallen short. Draw once, and it would not have been enough. That’s how good Liverpool were; yet, amazingly, City were better.
Yet while there was no dramatic final day twist, no Sergio Aguero or Michael Thomas moment, there was a redemption tale, of sorts. The man who took City to the realm of ecstasy, who scored the third goal that made sure of the title, and created the second that restored City to the top of the table – after Liverpool had gone ahead early – was Riyad Mahrez. The man whose penalty miss in the final minutes at Anfield would have been so vital in hindsight, had City been relegated to second place.
Mahrez has been consigned to the bench in recent weeks – indeed it was a huge surprise when he was called up to start in this one. Yet only when Guardiola admitted his gamble had not worked, and swapped flanks, Mahrez and Raheem Sterling, did City take charge of this game. Mahrez, on the right, was a different player – and putting City two goals clear after 64 minutes, he consigned that day at Anfield to the forgotten past.
It was a lovely goal, too. Mahrez got the ball from David Silva, shaped to pass, decided against it, gave himself a clear view of goal, took it. Matty Ryan had no chance. It was much the same after 72 minutes, when Raheem Sterling won a free-kick, and Ilkay Gundogan powered it into the top corner from outside the area. At that point, the celebrations could begin in earnest. What a title race this has been – and what champions it has produced.
As befits what many are now agreeing is the greatest title race, in terms of the quality of the duelling teams, the lead at the top of the Premier League changed twice – and that was just before half-time.
The two teams emerge from the tunnel ahead of an important game in the race for the Premier League title
The Brighton supporters in the AMEX Stadium pay tribute to their captain Bruno — who is retiring after Sunday’s game
Guardiola shakes hands with Brighton boss Hughton during a calm moment ahead of kick-off on Sunday afternoon
Gaetan Bong wins the ball back from Bernardo Silva after a charge up the pitch from the City midfielder at the AMEX
Glenn Murray could only head an effort over the bar after finding a few inches of space in the City box in the first-half
Brighton’s Alireza Jahanbakhsh has a shot at goal from the edge of the area but the effort flew wide of Ederson’s post
Manchester City began the day on top, Liverpool usurped them after Sadio Mane’s goal on 17 minutes, City claimed it back 38 minutes in when Aymeric Laporte scored their second of the day. Twists and turns, turns and twists.
It has been that way throughout this incredible campaign, in which the position at the top has swapped a record number of times. Maybe it was even for the best – from a City perspective – that Brighton should give them such a scare, initially. Certainly it had the effect of a wake-up call – probably more a klaxon to the eardrums – and Pep Guardiola’s team restarted with greater vigour.
It also helped when Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez switched wings – Mahrez improving considerably once on the right, and the architect of the vital second goal. He won the corner, and took it, too. Earlier, his uncertainty when deployed wide left, supported by the equally unconvincing Okelsandr Zinchenko, did little to win over those who thought Guardiola had gambled greatly by starting Mahrez after so long on the periphery.
City’s manager had talked of sleeping like a baby during this title run-in, but he appeared unusually anxious in the build-up here, sitting alone on the bench as his team went through their warm-up routine, drumming his fingers on the side of his seat. More anxiety once the game began, no doubt. Yves Bissouma recovered well to challenge a break by Bernardo Silva – having given the ball away to set the move up in the first place – but that aside, Brighton had the best of the chances.
There was a glancing header from Glenn Murray that travelled just wide and when Kyle Walker gave the ball away to invite a counter attack from Alireza Jahanbaksh – that ended in a shot wide – Guardiola sank to his knees and cradled his head in his hands. He didn’t look very calm. At which point Liverpool scored.
City manager Guardiola was visibly tense throughout the opening half on the south coast as his team chased the opener
Brighton striker (centre) gets his head to the ball ahead of goalkeeper Ederson as Brighton take the lead from a corner kick
City’s players show their dejection after Murray put Brighton into the head with a brilliant header from a corner
But it took less than a minute and a half for Aguero to latch onto a brilliant pass and slide the ball into the back of the net
Guardiola had said he would be forbidding his staff from getting updates from Anfield, but knowledge of the task is unavoidable. The word goes around the stadium and a crowd tens of thousands strong cannot keep a secret. So the Brighton fans were soon chanting ‘1-0 to Liverpool’ as a means of winding up the locals and hearing the reaction, it worked. ‘Who do you support?’ they were asked. Pretty soon, it was obvious.
Ederson fumbled a Murray shot around for a corner, to be taken by Pascal Gross. One interesting statistic about such a high flying team this season is that Manchester City have scored a higher percentage of goals from set pieces than any other team in the Premier League. You can see why.
It was a fine corner, whipped up towards the near post, but neither Ederson nor his defenders dealt with it, and Murray was there to head in. One can only imagine how that news was greeted at Anfield. More deliriously perhaps, than on the south coast. Not least because the home support got precisely 83 seconds to glory in it, before City equalised.
Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk show their frustration after City managed to level the game within minutes of the hosts’ opener
Laporte ran from the edge of the box and climbed highest from a City corner to head Guardiola’s team in front on Sunday
City’s players celebrate with Laporte after he rose highest from a corner kick to head home and put the visitors ahead
Defender Lewis Dunk came close to an equaliser for the Seagulls with a devilish free-kick that Ederson got a hand to
Pascal Gross (left) exchanges words with the referee Michael Oliver during the second-half of the game on Sunday
Yves Bissouma (left) and Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva (right) battle for the ball during the Premier League match
Laporte played the ball through to David Silva, who in turn found Sergio Aguero. He does have a habit of turning up trumps for City on days like this, and yesterday was no exception. Matt Ryan had looked very good in goal for Brighton, but Aguero’s finish was slipped smartly through his legs. And then away they went.
Until recent weeks, when teams have set up to thwart and frustrate them even more so than usual, City had a reputation for getting the job done early. Certainly they have, as the cliché runs, another gear. And they shifted into it here, with devastating results. Bernardo Silva came close with a header from a Zinchenko cross, and then Mahrez won the fateful corner.
He curled it in and Laporte lost Murray far too easily, his header close to unchallenged after a charge into the area, the ball powered past Ryan. Another interesting statistic about City this season is that they have scored a lower percentage of goals from set pieces than any other team in the Premier League. Still – if you’re going to save one up, what better time?
Yet Brighton, like Leicester, like Burnley, like Newcastle, were a credit to the competition in the way they never allowed City comfort. The half ended with a Lewis Dunk free-kick that Ederson tipped over the bar.
Mahrez scored City’s third shortly after the hour mark at the AMEX courtesy of a shot on his right from outside the box
The City players all surround the Algerian after he put them into a comfortable position on the final day of the campaign
Midfielder Gundogan scored the fourth goal for the visitors from a free-kick to secure a second straight Premier League title
City supporters show their delight with their traditional Poznan celebration after wrapping up the championship again
Guardiola greets the City staff as he walks down the carpet on the way to collect the Premier League trophy again