London (AFP) – Pep Guardiola urged Manchester City to seize the Premier League title on the last day of the season after a dramatic 2-2 draw at West Ham kept the destiny of the trophy in their hands on Sunday.
Guardiola’s side were in danger of gifting second placed Liverpool a title lifeline after West Ham’s Jarrod Bowen struck twice in the first half.
But City’s stirring recovery showed the character that has already brought them so much success in the Guardiola era.
Jack Grealish got one back soon after the interval and Vladimir Coufal’s own goal completed City’s escape act.
It should have been even better for City, but Riyad Mahrez’s penalty was saved by Lukasz Fabianski with five minutes left.
While that was a bitter blow, in the circumstances Guardiola was relieved to have moved four points clear of Liverpool with a goal difference seven better than their rivals.
They will retain the title if Jurgen Klopp’s team lose their game in hand at Southampton on Tuesday.
If Liverpool beat Southampton to close the gap to one point, Guardiola’s men can still clinch the trophy with a victory against Aston Villa at the Etihad Stadium on May 22.
A title race for the ages could well go down to the last day of the season when Liverpool host Wolves at the same time as City meet Villa.
And Guardiola called on his players not to be intimidated by the pressure of a do-or-die showdown.
“Now there is no debate about goal difference, just win our game and we will be champions,” he said.
“Our stadium will be sold out and we will give all our lives to do it. It’s an incredible chance to win one game to be champions.
“We have the desire and wish to win the game and the title. We proved it against Wolves and today.”
City have history with last-day title triumphs, famously winning their first English crown for 44 years thanks to Sergio Aguero’s last-gasp goal against QPR in 2012, while also pipping Liverpool in their final match in 2019.
A statue of Aguero was unveiled at the Etihad on Friday to mark the 10th anniversary, but Guardiola would rather not leave it that late to secure the silverware.
“No, please, not in that way! As long as it finishes that way it will be ok. Ten years ago belongs to Sergio and that team,” Guardiola said.
– ‘It’s in our hands’ –
Asked if he was hoping for a favour from Southampton, Guardiola said. “I would say ‘beat Liverpool 4-0’ but it doesn’t matter. If I am home, I will take a look on television.
“We will have a couple of days off to mentally disconnect then we will prepare the Villa game.”
While City are in pole position for a fourth title in five years, Liverpool have proved formidable rivals.
Klopp’s team are still chasing an unprecedented quadruple after beating Chelsea on penalties in Saturday’s FA Cup final.
Having already won the League Cup and reached the Champions League final against Real Madrid on May 28, the Premier League is the one prize that remains out of Liverpool’s hands.
Guardiola was quick to pay tribute to Liverpool’s tenacity and world-class talent.
“I said to the players after the game, don’t be sad, we gave a really good performance,” Guardiola said.
“We could not expect differently. We are fighting against one of the best teams I have seen in my life. You cannot expect to win it with two or three games to go.”
In a rallying cry to City’s fans, Guardiola told them to turn the streets around the Etihad into a sea of blue to roar their team to the title next weekend.
“It’s in our hands. The debate is over. Do the best game we can do,” he said.
“I encourage all the blue people in Manchester, they go to the street, go to the stadium. We will give everything. They will be so proud.”
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