Raheem Sterling hat-trick secures top-four finish in Brighton victory but Manchester City hold their breath ahead of Champions League appeal
Pep Guardiola was confident that he would have no difficulties getting off to sleep on Sunday night. Whether we believe that or not is another matter entirely.
So much is dependent on what comes out of the court in Lausanne at 9.30am on Monday, to the point that it feels like no great exaggeration to say it is second in importance only to the Abu Dhabi takeover in the recent history of Manchester City.
If their appeal fails and the ban from the Champions League is upheld in the Court of Arbitration for Sport, what then?
Who stays and who goes, up to and including Guardiola himself? Will talisman Kevin De Bruyne, aged 29, really hang about for two years without football of the highest order? How will this fascinating project regain its speed if there is a collision with that brick wall?
Guardiola has maintained his stance of confidence in City’s legal team and he sounds rather like a manager backing a striker to get out of a rut. If there is an equivalent in the complexities of Financial Fair Play of one going in off the backside, that would be every bit as useful to City as a legal screamer.
In any case, they have reached the defining point in this saga and it is a quirky coincidence that it comes two days after they secured their place, theoretically, in next season’s Champions League.
Even though he now has something definitive to lose, Guardiola (right) is adamant he is not stressed, saying: ‘I am going to sleep because I cannot do anything. I would love to do something but I can’t.
‘I am confident in the club, I know the arguments, the defence they have and in the next season we are going to be in the place where we won on the pitch this season. We have to wait. I know there are many teams in the Premier League waiting too.’
Firmer ground can be found in assessments of City’s team as they build momentum towards the conclusions of the FA Cup and this current Champions League campaign.
A second 5-0 victory in a row showed again the destructive power of what they have built with their wealth. There are arguments over whether money should be allowed to distort competition but equally it is hard to deny the sight of City in full flight is quite something.
Raheem Sterling, in particular, is imperious again with six league goals since the restart.
He scored a hat-trick here, to go with strikes from Bernardo Silva and Gabriel Jesus, and has now reached 27 goals this season in all competitions.
Guardiola credited him as much for his activism off the pitch as his form on it. He said: ‘Raheem and a lot of people around the world, what they are doing is to bring a better world. I am really proud of him.’