PEP Guardiola hailed his Manchester City stars as legends after securing a fourth Premier League title in five years on Sunday in dramatic fashion.
Needing to win to hold off Liverpool’s title charge, Guardiola’s men trailed Aston Villa 2-0 until the 76th minute before Ilkay Gundogan came off the bench to score twice either side of Rodri’s strike.
“These guys are legends. When you win in this country four times in five years, it is because these guys are so special. They will be remembered forever,” said Guardiola.
In scenes reminiscent of the first of City’s now six league titles in 11 seasons when Sergio Aguero scored a 93rd-minute winner to deny Manchester United the title on goal difference, the champions produced a remarkable comeback at the Etihad.
Goals from Matty Cash and former Liverpool favourite Philippe Coutinho looked set to gift the Reds the title.
Jurgen Klopp’s men did their job by also coming from a goal down to beat Wolves 3-1 at Anfield, but City’s rescue act ensured Liverpool’s bid for an unprecedented quadruple is over.
“I want to congratulate Liverpool Football Club for this incredible battle for the last years, especially this one too,” added Guardiola.
“The magnitude of our achievement is because of the magnitude of this rival. Never ever I had a rival like Liverpool in my career as a football player or manager.
“That makes me feel more proud about these players, about this organisation because we know exactly which opponent we faced.”
City’s joy was also marred by ugly scenes when fans flooded onto the pitch at full-time, injuring Villa goalkeeper Robin Olsen.
“Manchester City would like to sincerely apologise to Aston Villa goalkeeper Robin Olsen, who was assaulted after the final whistle at today’s match when fans entered the pitch,” City said in a statement.
“The Club has launched an immediate investigation and once identified, the individual responsible will be issued with an indefinite stadium ban.”
The crossbar at the goal where City scored their goals was snapped under the weight of supporters celebrating.
However, the atmosphere was very different inside the Etihad 15 minutes from time when they appeared to have handed the title on a plate to Liverpool.
An unlikely source
Guardiola’s decision to start with 37-year-old Fernandinho at centre-back in his final appearance for the club and John Stones out of position at right-back backfired for the opening goal on 37 minutes.
Lucas Digne sped past Stones and hung up a cross for Cash to head in powerfully at the back post.
Guardiola realised the error of his ways at the break as Fernandinho was hauled off for Oleksandr Zinchenko.
However, Coutinho looked to have handed his former employers the title 21 minutes from time with a stunning control and finish.
The Brazilian’s £142 million ($177 million) move from Liverpool to Barcelona in 2018 helped fund the team that under Klopp could still win a treble of cup competitions this season if they beat Real Madrid in next weekend’s Champions League final.
However, they remain one top-flight English league title behind Manchester United’s record of 20 thanks to a remarkable rally from the blue half of Manchester.
Guardiola’s other two substitutes combined to give the home fans and team hope when Gundogan headed in Sterling’s cross.
Rodri has become an unlikely source of crucial goals this season and the Spanish international stroked home his most important yet two minutes later.
A winner then seemed inevitable as Villa buckled under wave upon wave of City attack.
It duly arrived nine minutes from the end as De Bruyne drove to the by-line and flashed the ball across goal for Gundogan to apply the finishing touch. — AFP