They were going to do it. They were going to win. They were going to get the 98 points needed to land the title in this most astonishing of seasons.
But first, how about Liverpool? One defeat all season, 97 points and yet, somehow, still not quite good enough. That is the team that Manchester City had to overcome to retain the first title in their history. That is the level they had to attain.
Liverpool are, without doubt, one of the greatest teams the competition has ever seen. On points, the third best. Without a straight 14-game winning run to close out the campaign, City would have fallen short. Draw once, and it would not have been enough. That’s how good Liverpool were; yet, amazingly, City were better.
Yet while there was no dramatic final day twist, no Sergio Aguero or Michael Thomas moment, there was a redemption tale, of sorts. The man who took City to the realm of ecstasy, who scored the third goal that made sure of the title, and created the second that restored City to the top of the table – after Liverpool had gone ahead early – was Riyad Mahrez. The man whose penalty miss in the final minutes at Anfield would have been so vital in hindsight, had City been relegated to second place.
Mahrez has been consigned to the bench in recent weeks – indeed it was a huge surprise when he was called up to start in this one. Yet only when Guardiola admitted his gamble had not worked, and swapped flanks, Mahrez and Raheem Sterling, did City take charge of this game. Mahrez, on the right, was a different player – and putting City two goals clear after 64 minutes, he consigned that day at Anfield to the forgotten past.
It was a lovely goal, too. Mahrez got the ball from David Silva, shaped to pass, decided against it, gave himself a clear view of goal, took it. Matty Ryan had no chance. It was much the same after 72 minutes, when Raheem Sterling won a free-kick, and Ilkay Gundogan powered it into the top corner from outside the area. At that point, the celebrations could begin in earnest. What a title race this has been – and what champions it has produced.
As befits what many are now agreeing is the greatest title race, in terms of the quality of the duelling teams, the lead at the top of the Premier League changed twice – and that was just before half-time.
Yet Brighton, like Leicester, like Burnley, like Newcastle, were a credit to the competition in the way they never allowed City comfort.