Sterling strikes late to fix Pep's 'worries'
It may seem hard to believe now but back at the start of the season Pep Guardiola admitted he was "worried" about his side's failings in front of goal. Less than 24 hours later Raheem Sterling popped up with one of the scrappiest goals of the season, in the 97th minute at Bournemouth, to spark wild celebrations in the away end as City snatched a late winner.
After not looking overly impressive in their first two games of the season, this was a chaotic end to their third, with Sterling sent off for his celebration and Sergio Aguero intervening as police man-handled fans who had jumped onto the pitch.
At the time, it was suggested that Sterling’s scuffed effort would be a turning point in the season, or would at least get them through until they signed Alexis Sanchez in the days that followed…
Sadio Mane's red card derails Liverpool
One of the most needlessly controversial moments of the season, but one which set City on their way in the league, and seriously derailed Liverpool at the same time.
Mane, although he didn’t mean to do it, knocked out Ederson by kicking him in the face, so his red card was justified. City were leading 1-0 at the time but the space between Nicolas Otamendi at left centre-back and Benjamin Mendy at left-back was still being exploited by the Reds – until they went down to 10 men.
Jurgen Klopp’s side then simply folded, with City flowing through them at will. It certainly seemed that Sterling’s goal at Bournemouth had sparked them into life in front of goal, even if Alexis’ planned move had fallen through. City won this one 5-0, and then scored 19 in their next four Premier League games.
Mendy injury forces tactical rethink
Benjamin Mendy was one of City’s fundamental summer signings, designed to come in and provide the kind of dynamic attacking presence down the left-hand side that was simply lacking last year; the kind of thing Kyle Walker has been doing on the right-hand side all season.
The Frenchman looked impressive in his first few performances, particularly with his superb low crosses from the left, but he got himself in a mess trying to tackle Crystal Palace’s Andros Townsend back in September, and despite walking from the pitch, it was later confirmed that he would miss nine months with a serious knee ligament injury.
City hadn’t signed another left-back during the summer and this was seen as one of the worst-case scenarios, especially ahead of a key game at Chelsea. Yet Guardiola found the answer and changed City’s approach.
He converted Fabian Delph into a left-back who was comfortable slotting back into midfield when City had the ball, and tasked Leroy Sane, who had struggled for minutes at the start of the season, with providing City’s width on the left, with David Silva getting into the half spaces to provide an assist or goal.
The plan clearly worked and Mendy's injury, as cruel as it was, has hardly hampered the Blues.
City prove their mettle at Chelsea
City may have only scored the one goal at Stamford Bridge but it was arguably the most important of their season. Guardiola’s men were clearly in fine form but they went to west London only 12 months on from when things had fallen apart after a fine start to the 2016-17 season, and many were wondering if City were the real deal, or would simply suffer the same old problems. Kevin De Bruyne provided the answer.
City dominated the champions with an impressive, confident performance, and the key moment was a precise strike from their Belgian midfielder, who had already began to show signs that he could become the pivotal player in this increasingly fine season.
City celebrated wildly in the dressing room and victory gave them the belief to go and implement their game plan at some of the toughest grounds in England and beyond.
- Dan Mullan
Late Sterling winners dispirit chasing pack
City had won all 17 of their games in all competitions since drawing with Everton in their second outing of the season, despite an injury to Vincent Kompany and their only left-back, and they had an eight-point lead over United to show for it.
Things were looking up, but an injury to John Stones at Leicester City in early December was regarded as a major set-back, and for good reason. With Kompany out of the side since that win at Bournemouth, Stones had struck up a formidable partnership with Nicolas Otamendi at the heart of City’s defence, but was ruled out for six weeks with a hamstring injury.
City, heading towards the Manchester derby, faced Huddersfield, Southampton and West Ham. Suddenly the goals had dried up, and the Blues, as some suggested, seemed to find things harder as winter drew in.
But another bobbly Sterling winner in the 84th minute at Huddersfield, after Guardiola had thrown on Gabriel Jesus for Kompany, provided a major boost. But not as much as the one against Southampton.
As the clocked ticked over into the sixth minute of stoppage time, Sterling picked up the ball in space on the edge of the area and curled a stunning effort into the far top corner. Cue wild scenes at the Etihad, with Mendy throwing down his crutches and charging down the touchline as Guardiola celebrated on the pitch.
Four days later they were at it again, with David Silva scoring in the 83rd minute to see off West Ham, just a week before the derby. Could anything stop this side?
City & United clash in Old Trafford tunnel
City winning at Old Trafford is not really new these days, either for Guardiola or for his two immediate predecessors, but this 2-1 victory stretched the Blues’ lead to 11 points.
Yet even that was overshadowed by the bust-up in the tunnel at full-time, after Jose Mourinho had entered the City dressing room to complain about the noise – by this point in the season, the Blues had become used to blaring out music before and after their matches.
Mourinho ended up having a bottle of milk chucked at him, which led to players pouring out of both dressing rooms to clash in the tunnel. It was all quickly diffused, but City left in celebratory mood and won their next four games to set a new record for consecutive Premier League victories.
- Getty Images
City run ragged at Anfield
As the season has gone on we have been scrutinising how City would react in certain situations – would they fold in September? Would winter get to them? What happens when they finally lose? We found out the answer to the last question in January, when City not only lost, but looked, at times, ragged at Anfield.
Now ‘just’ 12 points ahead of United, Sky Sports kicked off their Monday Night Football programme wondering whether Jose Mourinho’s team would sense an opportunity to overturn what would be a record deficit to win the title. We soon go our answer. City won six of their next seven games, reasserting their dominance in the league and progressing in the three cup competitions.
The defeat at Anfield turned out to be but a minor irritation - in the league, at least - though it did hint at frailties which would resurface in the Champions League.
- Getty Images
Mourinho concedes the title - in February
On February 2, the day before United would actually close the gap on City to 13 points following the Blues’ draw at Burnley, Jose Mourinho conceded the title.
Speaking of the Red Devils' game with Huddersfield, he said: "It's important for us because we need points to be the first of the last. We need to try to finish second - we have been in this position all season. First for a few weeks, but we have been second for the rest.”
Guardiola, of course, cautioned that the league was not over by that point, but Mourinho, like the rest of us, had clearly felt for some time that City were just too good.
Wigan loss can't derail City
Maybe this time they would buckle?! Few saw the Wigan defeat coming, and the reaction of Guardiola and his players at various points during and after the match suggested they were not too happy about it.
With two games against Arsenal – one in the Carabao Cup final - and Chelsea coming up next, there were worries among certain sections of the City fan-base that a bad patch was on the horizon. Instead, City romped the final 3-0, then romped the league game 3-0, then completely outplayed Chelsea for the second time this season.
As City outplayed Stoke in their next league game the long suffering supporters, who have seen just about everything, started singing, at last “We’re gonna win the league.”
- Shaun Botterill
City show their worth at Wembley
City's bad patch finally arrived in early April, costing them a place in the Champions League semi-finals and the chance to clinch the title against United at the Etihad Stadium.
One of the most worrying things for City was the reaction of their players at the most testing moments in each game, and many were predicting further pain when they travelled to Wembley to face Tottenham, one of the teams best set-up to face City, and one of the league's most in-form sides.
Guardiola's side started brilliantly and raced into a two-goal lead, but when Christian Eriksen pulled one back it looked like they might fold again, as they had done against United the week before. When Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling missed fine chances, it seemed the writing was on the wall.
But then Guardiola switched up his tactics, changing to something like a 3-5-2, and City's fortunes changed; Sterling reacted quickest to lash a loose ball into the net from close range to make it 3-1. That killed off Spurs and proved, after a testing week, that the Blues do not just play great attacking football - they can stand up and be counted when the going gets tough.
The victory seemed to set up a final flourish against Swansea at the Etihad, but United's shock defeat at home to West Brom on Sunday ensured Guardiola's men were crowned champions.
The performance at Spurs, a blend of attacking excellence and defensive steel, serves as a perfect example of exactly what this team can do.