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Manchester City are Champions again as Pep Guardiola’s side secure third Premier League trophy in four seasons

Manchester City’s third Premier League title in four years is secure, won at a canter having never been in doubt since around the end of February.

It is easy to forget, though, just how much work Pep Guardiola has had to do – and how quickly he has done it – to return his team to the summit of the English game.

Back in mid-December, City’s title challenge was ambling aimlessly when Guardiola called a meeting of coaches Juanma Lillo, Rodolfo Borrell, Manel Estiarte and director of football Txiki Begiristain.

His side had won fewer than half of their opening 12 league matches and were sitting outside the Champions League places.

A 1-1 draw with relegation-threatened West Brom had come off the back of a dour and lifeless goalless draw at Manchester United.

The flair and fizz that not so long ago set them apart from the rest had gone.

The City boss told his inner circle that they had to go back to the basics – a 4-3-3 system, more control of the ball and the attacking principles that had worked so successfully in previous seasons.

From there, City won their next 15 Premier League games while remaining 28 matches unbeaten in all competitions, their title secured with three games to go thanks to Leicester’s 2-1 triumph at United on Tuesday night.

“We started to rebuild and reconstruct the team from that point,” Guardiola said. “We had success in the past and [we had to] come back on our positional play, move the ball quicker, do more passes, stay more in position and run less with the ball.”

Quite how City had lost their way goes back to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and a malaise that hung over from the previous season.

Liverpool had been unstoppable before the coronavirus outbreak shut down football, with City unrecognisably sloppy as they failed to keep up with Jurgen Klopp’s run-away champions.

So far behind were they that following Project Restart, City’s focus switched to cup competitions, with the possibility of winning an FA Cup and Champions League double still on the table.

They won neither.

City’s high defensive line lacked speed and confidence, while at the other end opportunities were wasted.

Shock defeats to Arsenal and Lyon – a team that finished seventh in Ligue 1 – were a shattering blow, and the players left a luxury camp in Portugal 24 hours after their Champions League quarter-final disaster dazed and with no time over the summer for a full post-mortem or to rebuild fragile belief.

Fast-forward two months, and City kicked off the season with little preparation and little time for correction.

Guardiola has enjoyed each of his title successes, from Barcelona to Bayern Munich to Manchester, but there is something unique about his latest achievement.

In mid-November, there was no indication that he would remain at the Etihad Stadium beyond the end of season, with his contract set to expire in June.

He had already been at City longer than at any other club in his coaching career, so when he put pen to paper on a new two-year deal, it illustrated a desire from the Catalan to rebuild a team he had already grown from the ground once before for the first time.

Instead, Guardiola has been able to bring the best from so many of his other attacking players.

Kevin De Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva have revelled in the extra responsibility while Ilkay Gundogan has enjoyed his best-ever goalscoring season ever and embraced being the City coach’s brains on the pitch.

Phil Foden, meanwhile, has moved on from being a youngster of huge potential to a key member of the starting line-up, reaching a consistent quality that has seen him oust Raheem Sterling as a regular starter.

There could yet be greater prizes with a Champions League final to come for City this season, but another Premier League title will never be taken for granted.

ajay
Sports freak at your door step

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