There was not the late drama of 2012, but the end result was just the same: Manchester City are Premier League champions for the second time in three seasons after a comfortable 2-0 victory over West Ham United on Sunday.
While Sergio Aguero was the last-minute hero of that memorable afternoon two years ago, this time it was Samir Nasri and Vincent Kompany who got the decisive goals with plenty of time to spare—the duo breaking the Hammers’ resistance either side of half-time to start the celebrations early at the Etihad Stadium.
Liverpool, needing to win against Newcastle United to make things interesting, did eventually move ahead at Anfield to apply some sort of pressure on their rivals, but City never realistically looked like letting their grip on the title slip as Manuel Pellegrini’s side ultimately clinched the title by a two-point margin.
City’s 101st and 102nd goals of the league campaign secured victory on the day and glory overall. Nasri’s breakthrough was the crucial moment—the Frenchman finding the bottom corner from 25 yards after City had earlier struggled to pierce West Ham’s obdurate backline.
The visitors never realistically looked like scoring an equaliser—never mind a come-from-behind winner—so Kompany’s follow-up moments after the break had the feel of a clincher, the Belgian reacting fastest to steer Edin Dzeko’s knockdown home.
Afterward, Nasri told Sky Sports:
It’s an amazing feeling. It’s my second title in three years. There is no word to explain my feeling. Maybe in an hour or so we will really feel it!
I’m so happy for the manager because it’s his first title over here. He remains calm all season. We played attractive all year and it was a pleasure to work for him.
We are friends and all put our egos to one side. We kept believing. The Liverpool and Chelsea game was the twist.
Pellegrini announced before kick-off that he had a full squad to choose from and was as good as his word with Aguero—the hero of two years ago—starting despite struggling all week with a groin problem.
West Ham, meanwhile, made their approach clear from the outset, with Sam Allardyce opting for a five-man midfield with Andy Carroll leading the line upfront. When the visitors’ first attacking move of note involved a long ball up for Carroll to try and win in the air, few were surprised.
City did not need to win the game in order to clinch the title, however, so in a way it only played into their hands that their opponents appeared to be preoccupied with trying to keep goals out rather than score any of their own. West Ham hardly had a chance in the first half, although Joe Hart picked up a few bruises as Carroll and Kevin Nolan tested his conviction under high balls.
City, meanwhile, started the game in the composed and collected manner you would expect of champions-elect. They dominated possession even before the first big moment, as news filtered through to the Etihad that Liverpool had gone behind at Newcastle thanks to Martin Skrtel’s own goal.
Suddenly City did not even need to win their game in order to be crowned champions, but they kept pushing forward regardless. Hammers goalkeeper Adrian was far and away the busiest player on the pitch, forced into action to deny Aguero, Nasri and Aleksandar Kolarov.
It was the Frenchman who would eventually break the deadlock, five minutes before half-time. There appeared to be little real danger when Nasri picked up the ball 30 yards out, but he got it out of his feet and then unleashed a low drive that seemed to catch Adrian by surprise, swerving past the ‘keeper’s outstretched hand and into the far corner.
The Etihad, loud before kick-off in anticipation, burst into life in celebration.
If the first half was somewhat predictable, then in the second half it got even more so as City wasted little time in extending their advantage. Kompany, the talisman, was the fitting scorer—the Belgian turning and firing home from close range after Dzeko had done well to knock down Nasri’s corner inside the six-yard box.
Kompany was clearly elated with his goal, with seemingly everyone in the ground now convinced that this was going to be their day once more.
Around the hour-mark, events elsewhere changed the dynamic slightly, as Liverpool scored twice in as many minutes to ensure they would pick up the three points they had to secure against a side that was soon to go down to 10 men.
Had City been only 1-0 up, or still sweating at 0-0, it might have injected some genuine tension into the occasion, but City were so comfortable they probably did not even notice matters elsewhere.
With Carroll floundering upfront, City created chance after chance—Nasri forcing another good stop from Adrian as Aguero somehow contrived to miss an open goal from yards out.
Aguero did not seem to be on top form, his most notable contribution coming with just minutes remaining as he sparked a mini-brawl after attempting to take out Mark Noble off the ball.
Two years ago, the striker had to produced one of the all-time goals to dramatically clinch the title. This time, he could get involved in some petty spats, such was the ease with which his team strode to victory.
The final whistle blew, and City's players were mobbed by fans who invaded the pitch in celebration. There were twists and turns along the way, but on the final day Manchester City cruised to victory with a cutting edge that suggests they were ultimately worthy winners.
Pellegrini, again speaking to Sky Sports moments before receiving "the bumps" from his players, concluded:
It’s a very special time. My first year is not easy to get used to English football but I think I managed a great group of players. I must be calm during the game because I need to make decisions but we’ve had a lot of difficult moments during the year.
It was a very special because we’ve never been at the top of the table but six games away I told my players we needed to change and they believed in me. They are a special group and we tried to play all year like a winning team.
Kompany is a very good captain and he deserved to score today.
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