The Blues have redefined what it takes to win the Premier League title and deserve to be remembered alongside the division’s greatest ever
“Perhaps you’ll value us more now?”, tweeted a member of the Manchester City backroom staff as the celebrations unfolded.
City have clinched their second successive Premier League title, overcoming 83 seconds of sheer panic at Brighton – after the hosts had taken the lead – to eventually run out comfortable 4-1 winners. In doing so they became the first team to retain the Premier League title for 10 years.
It is a victory that will reopen the debate about the league’s greatest ever champions, and surely City are now right at the top of that list?
Yet that tweet was not posted on Sunday afternoon, but Tuesday night.
The players celebrating at the time were Liverpool’s, after their Champions League heroics against Barcelona. The tweet, later deleted, hints at a frustration within the City dressing room that Pep Guardiola’s side do not get the credit they deserve.
Little wonder, given many observers were keen to downplay their 100-point season – and all the records that went with it – insisting they would have to do more this season to be regarded as a great Premier League side (something nobody demanded of Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’, by the way).
So, what now?
It is clear now that Jurgen Klopp’s team is something special. They have reached the Champions League final and racked up 97 Premier League points, which would’ve won them the title in almost any other season.
But not on City’s watch. Not last season, and, incredibly, not this.
By beating this Liverpool team to the title, by winning their last 14 games in a row when the pressure has been highest, Guardola’s men have proven that they are the real deal.
They have done this, remember, with Kevin De Bruyne out for most of the season, no natural left-back since November and key man Fernandinho in and out of the side since the Carabao Cup final in February.
And with an FA Cup final coming up in six days, they have the opportunity to make history and win a domestic treble.
They have improved on last season, and then some.
Only two sides had successfully retained their title in over 25 years of Premier League history, and nobody had managed it for the last decade.
The difficulty of that achievement will speak for itself, yet to win two titles back-to-back with a total of 198 points is simply unheard of, and to do so while sweeping through the domestic cup competitions is even more impressive.
Perhaps Liverpool’s European exploits will emphasise just how good City are, to anybody who still needs convincing.
City outdid Liverpool in the standings and also on the pitch – securing a draw at Anfield and a win at the Etihad Stadium that turned the title race on its head back in January.
And they beat everybody else, of course. Literally everybody else.
It is far, far harder than it sounds to beat every team in the league, but City have done it – again. They did it last year and they have repeated the feat, making them the first team to beat all of their opponents in a league campaign twice in a row since Preston North End – 129 years ago.
City set the Premier League win record last season and they have matched it this time around. They could have afforded to lose a few more in 2017-18, but not this time.
City have won the title by a single point, because they won every single one of their last 14 matches. Only once before has a Premier League team won more than 13 games in a row, and that was City last season when they won 18.
These are not normal numbers. This is no ordinary team.
Of course, one recurring argument against City’s success is that they are supremely rich, so what do you expect but success?
They are certainly big spenders, but that argument ignores the fact that the two teams to have previously retained the title regularly out-spent everybody else, and they are still held up as the benchmark.
It also ignores the fact that money has never been a guarantee of success in football.
And certainly not success like this.
Winning the odd trophy here and there is one thing, as City themselves did earlier this decade, but winning them like the club are doing now, so relentlessly and so artistically, is domination. They are redefining what it means to be a champion.
People now look back in time to work out how impressive previous champions actually were.
Some of Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United teams are being re-evaluated – not just the 1997 side that won the title with 75 points, but the Treble winners of 1999, who won it with 79 points.
Can you imagine a team winning the title with fewer than 80 points any time soon? How about fewer than 90? Could you ever have imagined a team getting 97 points and still not winning it?
City have been so good, in fact, that one national newspaper even claimed their would-be treble “bittersweet”. Yes, they are so good that they can win three trophies but be – supposedly – disappointed not to have won the other. (Has more ever been demanded of a manager than it is of Guardiola?).
Improvement in the Champions League will be the goal for next season, now the Catalan has established his side as the undisputed top dogs in England.
He is desperate to win it and will be bitterly disappointed to see the opportunity go to two sides who have finished below his in the table, and not got anywhere near the domestic cups either.
But maybe Tottenham’s own run to the big final will also say something for City. Yes, Spurs’ comparatively small budget means the Blues will be accused of failing by not beating them, and they certainly made mistakes over the two legs, but the Londoners’ indomitable spirit in those matches, and the fact they won by the tiniest of margins, should show how foolish it is to use Champions League shortcomings as a stick to beat City and their coach.
That does reflect, though, just how high they have set the bar. It has never been higher, and perhaps City will now get the credit they deserve.