London (AFP) – Manchester City were crowned Premier League champions for the third time in four seasons after Manchester United crashed to a 2-1 defeat against Leicester on Tuesday.
Pep Guardiola’s side are 10 points clear of second placed United and have wrapped up the title with three games to spare.
In the midst of a gruelling run of three games in five days, United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer effectively handed the title to arch rivals City by picking a weakened team with 10 changes.
With many of City’s players watching on television, Luke Thomas’ 10th minute volley put Leicester ahead before Mason Greenwood equalised five minutes later.
Caglar Soyuncu’s towering header in the 66th minute ensured City could pop the champagne corks for a title party that has seemed inevitable for months.
City were denied the chance to celebrate on Sunday when Chelsea won 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium, while United kept them waiting with a victory at Aston Villa on Sunday.
But the delay was only temporary and City, who also won the League Cup in April, can finally savour a title triumph that is all the sweeter given the obstacles they have overcome this term.
“This has been a season and a Premier League title like no other. This was the hardest one,” Guardiola said.
“We will always remember this season for the way we won. I am so proud to be the manager here and of this group of players.
“They are so special. To come through this season, with all the restrictions and difficulties we’ve faced, and show the consistency we have is remarkable. It is relentless.”
Treble-chasing City’s seventh top-flight title could be the prelude to an even greater triumph on May 29 when they face Chelsea in their first ever Champions League final.
Drained by the late finish to last season and ill-prepared due to the subsequent lack of a proper pre-season, City were slow out of the blocks.
After a dismal 1-1 draw against lowly West Bromwich Albion in December, City had won just five of their opening 12 Premier League games.
It was the worst start to a season of Guardiola’s managerial career, prompting the Spaniard in the startling admission that he didn’t like his team.
A coronavirus outbreak in the squad added to Guardiola’s problems in December.
Having surrendered the title meekly to Liverpool the previous season, it seemed City were heading for a period of regression.
But Guardiola masterminded such a superb recovery that City turned the title race into a procession, giving him three Premier League crowns to go with three La Liga trophies with Barcelona and three at Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga.
– Dominant Dias –
Following the West Brom game, City powered to 21 successive victories in all competitions, a record for an English top-flight club, including a 4-1 rout of Liverpool at Anfield.
In another sign of their dominance, City will play their first match as champions at Newcastle on Friday on a run of 19 consecutive away wins in all competitions.
“At the start of every season, the Premier League is the most important title for us. This is the one where you have to be there every three days, playing all your rivals home and away,” Guardiola said.
“Only by being the very best, week in week out, can you win this competition. It is a huge success.”
One of the keys to City’s success has been the inspired form of Ruben Dias, who has transformed Guardiola’s defence since arriving from Benfica in August.
The Portugal centre-back’s rock-solid partnership with the revitalised John Stones laid the title foundations.
Even without club record goalscorer Sergio Aguero for long periods due to fitness issues, City have been a potent force.
The emergence of England playmaker Phil Foden as a match-winning force was crucial, with Kevin De Bruyne as consistent as ever despite battling injuries.
Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez produced spells of lethal finishing, while dynamic full-back Joao Cancelo wreaked havoc with his attacking bursts.
Manchester United and Chelsea appear poised for strong title challenges next season and Liverpool are likely to improve after an injury-hit campaign.
But, after the exits of City legends David Silva, Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure in recent years, Guardiola has created a new generation capable of reigning supreme for years to come.
Guardiola’s latest Premier League success gives him an astonishing 26 major trophies in his managerial career.
With two trophies already secured this season, the City boss can focus on completing a memorable treble by winning his club’s first Champions League crown.
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