Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea: Pep Guardiola’s men start Premier League title celebrations
They waited outside the Etihad Stadium in the blazing afternoon sunshine before the game against Chelsea on Sunday afternoon. They had come for the coronation and they held up flares that emitted smoke which turned the air sky blue.
When the team bus turned slowly off the Ashton New Road, they roared acclaim for the players as they climbed off the team coach and strode into the stadium beneath a huge banner that said: ‘Champions – 3-in-a-row’.
The supporters watched them go and then streamed towards the entrances. They thanked their lucky stars for their manager. ‘We’ve got Guardiola,’ they sang to the tune of Glad All Over. They sang songs about what superiority meant. ‘Whoa-oh, we’re the boys in blue,’ they yelled. ‘Whoa-oh, we’re coming for you.’
And City are coming for you. Whoever you are, City are going to hunt you down. If you’re Chelsea and you’ve spent £600m on players in a matter of months and you’re one of the modern powerhouses of the English game, City are going to play their second team against you, treat your league game like an exhibition, outplay you and take you down.
If you’re Arsenal and you think you’ve got a sniff of the title, however unexpected it might be, City are going to win 12 league games on the spin, teach you all about pressure, put you back in your box and slam the lid tightly shut.
Ilkay Gundogan lifts the Premier League trophy in the air as the champions celebrate in front of their fans
Erling Haaland has been central to Manchester City’s domination and relished the chance to lift the trophy
The players have delivered an incredible run of form at the business end of the season and are on course for the Treble
Manchester City’s Premier League title celebrations began in earnest after they beat Chelsea 1-0 on Sunday afternoon
Hundreds of supporters invaded the pitch at the Etihad Stadium (above) after the final whistle to toast their side’s victory
Security staff (pictured) were forced to bundle players like Erling Haaland (right) and Kevin De Bruyne off the pitch quickly
Fans held up a banner saying: ‘The Treble is on: One down, two to go’ on the field, referencing their potential three trophies
Match Facts: Man City 1-0 Chelsea, Etihad Stadium
Manchester City (3-2-4-1): Ortega; Walker, Laporte (Rodri 78), Akanji (Stones 58); Phillips, Gomez (De Bruyne 78); Mahrez (Haaland 73), Lewis, Foden, Palmer; Alvarez.
Subs: Ederson; Dias, Gundogan, B Silva, Grealish.
Goals: Alvarez 12.
Manager: Pep Guardiola.
Chelsea (3-4-2-1): Kepa; W Fofana, T Silva, Chalobah; Azpilicueta, Fernandez, Loftus-Cheek (Chukwuemeka 81), Hall (Koulibaly 81); Gallagher (Mudryk 69); Sterling (Madueke 69), Havertz (Pulisic 85).
Subs: Mendy, Wady; Ziyech, D Fofana.
Yellow cards: Havertz 18, Fernandez 66.
Manager: Frank Lampard.
Referee: Michael Oliver.
If you’re Bayern Munich or Real Madrid or any one of the grandes dames of European football, City are going to show you what football’s new world order of clubs owned by repressive, fabulously wealthy petro-states looks like and consign you to your quaint hierarchical version of history.
If you’re Liverpool, City are going to exhaust you mentally and physically.
And if you’re Manchester United, City are going to take their revenge for living in the shadow of their neighbours for much of their history by advancing on some of the achievements you treasure most dearly and moving to within two games of winning a Treble of their own.
When Nottingham Forest’s victory over Arsenal on Saturday evening confirmed that City had won the Premier League title for the fifth time in six years, it crystallised the domination that City now exert over English football.
City’s 1-0 victory over Chelsea moved them seven points clear of Arsenal.
They have a game in hand, too. The narrative of this season was that it was a thrilling title race.
City have turned it into a cake-walk.
There has not yet been an English team that has won four league titles in succession but only a fool would bet against City creating another piece of history by becoming the first next season.
It would be a surprise, frankly, if anyone got remotely close to them.
English football has been a wonderfully competitive organism.
Anybody can beat anybody and all that. In many ways, it has been its unique selling point.
City are threatening to change that. If Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal of 2003-04 were the Invincibles, Guardiola’s City have become the Untouchables.
Their hope – their expectation – is that the prolonged trophy presentation ceremony after the Chelsea match will be the first of three as City close in on a Treble that only Manchester United have achieved in the English game until now.
There was a party atmosphere at the Etihad before the match, with City champions after Arsenal lost at Nottingham Forest
Pep Guardiola orchestrated yet another incredible success and is the mastermind behind the side’s remarkable run
Haaland and his family posed with the trophy on the pitch after the fans had left the Etihad Stadium
Their third straight title was confirmed on Saturday as the Gunners dropped points with a 1-0 loss against Nottingham Forest
A cardboard cut-out of manager Pep Guardiola (pictured) was adorned with a Viking hat in homage to striker Erling Haaland
Haaland is sprayed with champagne by Kyle Walker as the celebrations unfold on the turf in Manchester
They play United in FA Cup Final on June 3 and Internazionale in the Champions League Final in Istanbul on June 10. That is why City played a second string against Frank Lampard’s side. Greater tests lie ahead.
That level of domination is going to make enemies. It was the same with the Liverpool sides of the 70s and 80s. It was the same with the Sir Alex Ferguson United sides of the 90s and 2000s.
And the antipathy towards City is exacerbated by the nature of the Abu Dhabi regime that bankrolls them and by repeated allegations of Financial Fair Play rule breaches made against them.
Those allegations make for some awkwardness on occasions like this. The stadium was treated to the strange optics of Richard Masters, the chief executive of the Premier League, draping winners’ medals round the necks of the City players at the end of the match at a time when his organisation has charged City with 115 financial breaches.
City roll on through it all. This is what happens when you marry state ownership with football brains but it is impossible to dislike what City stand for on the pitch. City are a beguiling team to watch. They do not batter teams into submission or wear them down or park the bus or hit them on the counter. They kill you with kindness. They blind you with beauty.
They have the best coach in the world in Guardiola and he has fashioned a team of all the talents – a player with the vision and power of Kevin de Bruyne, a player with the grace of John Stones, a player who reads the game like Rodri, a player who bleeds goals like Erling Haaland, a human dynamo of creativity and desire like Bernardo Silva.
Watching City’s performance against Real Madrid in the first half of their Champions League semi-final second leg last week felt like watching a team that had achieved a kind of football nirvana. They were operating on a different level. They were in that zone of heightened performance that sportsmen at the very top of their game sometimes talk about.
They are not going anywhere, either. This is a team that is getting better and better. It is a team that is closer to being at the start of something than at the end. That is the scary thing about it. Might they win six titles on the bounce? Or seven? It would not be a surprise.
Guardiola hugged opposite man Frank Lampard (right) in the dugout area before the match in the early afternoon on Sunday
Throughout the game, joyous City supporters performed the famous ‘Poznan’ celebration popularised by Polish fans
Argentine forward Julian Alvarez (right) opened the scoring just 12 minutes into the game, finishing low past goalkeeper Kepa
He was congratulated by team-mates Riyad Mahrez (middle) and Phil Foden (right) afterwards for his clinical finish
They did not have to hit the heights against Chelsea. There was no need. This was more of a celebration than a contest. Chelsea’s players gave City a guard of honour as they ran on to the pitch before kick-off and even though Guardiola made nine changes to the team that had overwhelmed Madrid last week, Chelsea could not pierce their defence.
City’s bench – Ederson, Ruben Dias, Stones, Ilkay Gundogan, Haaland, Jack Grealish, Rodri, De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva – might well have been the most talented bench in English football history. Their substitutes had scored 64 league goals this season, 28 more than Chelsea
City got the only goal of the game in the 12th minute. Wesley Fofana, under no pressure, passed the ball out of Chelsea’s defence straight to Kalvin Phillips near the half-way line. Phillips played it to Cole Palmer, Palmer ran forward and slid and pass to Julian Alvarez who drilled it past Kepa Arrizabalaga.
It was too easy. Chelsea looked demoralised and outclassed. City attacked at will. At the end of one move, their players were queuing up to score. Only a last-gasp block denied Riyad Mahrez on that occasion. A few minutes later, Trevoh Chalobah kicked a Palmer shot off the line.
City fans stood up for the champions. Then they did the Poznan, turning their backs on the game and jumping up and down in unison. When they turned back, Phillips drifted a beautiful pass over the Chelsea defence to Foden whose chip beat Kepa but curled just wide.
Ten minutes before the break, Chelsea did actually put together an attack of substance. Enzo Fernandez fizzed a ball in to Kai Havertz. Havertz controlled it, turned and played Sterling in behind the City defence but his shot was saved by Stefan Ortega’s leg.
A couple of minutes later, Conor Gallagher smacked a header against the post.Chelsea had other chances but they could never quite convert them.
They are 41 points behind Guardiola’s side in the league, with less than half their points. No one quite knows where they will finish next season. But we all know where City will be.
The goal came from another defensive mistake from the Blues, after Wesley Fofana’s poor pass was cut out and punished
Former Manchester City star Raheem Sterling, who moved to Chelsea in summer 2022, missed several fine opportunities
Spaniard Guardiola, who has four English titles in five years, was happy with the performance of his players at the Etihad
While it was another defeat for Chelsea’s Frank Lampard, who is temporarily in charge until the end of the league campaign