Friday 23 August 2019

Pep: Reds' challenge has made this the toughest title I've won

Brighton 1 Manchester City 4

Vincent Kompany lifts the Premier League trophy. Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Vincent Kompany lifts the Premier League trophy. Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Sam Dean

Pep Guardiola said Manchester City's Premier League triumph was the toughest title of his illustrious career as he promised that his side would come back even stronger next season.

City's victory over Brighton secured a second consecutive league title for Guardiola, who said he was "addicted" to winning as he turned his attention towards sealing an unprecedented domestic treble in Saturday's FA Cup final against Watford.

Guardiola said the challenge posed by Liverpool, who finished second despite losing only one game and amassing an astonishing 97 points, made this his most testing victory since he became a manager.

"After 100 points [last season], after a World Cup, we were worried," said Guardiola. "But they pushed themselves, the staff pushed, and that is the only way we could be winning the Community Shield, Carabao Cup, Premier League, in the FA Cup final and in the latter stages of the Champions League.

"It is the toughest league we have won. We have won in Spain and Germany, but that was the toughest with the rivalry we have faced all season. That was the most difficult title, for the quality of Liverpool. We made 100 points and had to make 98 this season."

For 21 minutes yesterday's afternoon, if the results stood as they were, then Liverpool would have won their first title for 29 years. Remarkable and, for Liverpool, cruel. City finished with a 14th successive league victory - no team have ever ended with that perfect sequence in top-flight history.

Manchester City's Riyad Mahrez scores their third goal. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters
Manchester City's Riyad Mahrez scores their third goal. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters

"We knew for two months we could not lose a point," Guardiola said. And he was right except, actually, it was more than three months with no margin for error and often playing after Liverpool as the lead changed time and again. It was therefore right that this epic title contest felt like it was settled by a wonderful goal, the third one, that cleared the City bench in celebration, with Guardiola punching the air as his anxiety flooded away and he knew it was won.

The goal was scored by Riyad Mahrez, City's record signing at £60 million but a disappointing, bit-part player this campaign. He dumped Lewis Dunk on his backside with one of those trademark check-backs and struck a fierce right-footed shot from the edge of the penalty area that goalkeeper Mat Ryan got a hand to but could not prevent from flying high into the net.

It meant that for the final 37 minutes - and for the first time this gruelling season - City could relax and drink it all in before they headed back north for more drinks and a homecoming party at the Etihad. Then there is an FA Cup final against Watford on Saturday to prepare for and the prospect of completing an unprecedented domestic treble.


Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola celebrates winning the Premier League. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola celebrates winning the Premier League. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters

The City manager thanked Liverpool for pushing his team all the way this year and forcing them to raise their standards. City and Liverpool's combined points tally of 195 points is the most ever accumulated by the two pacesetters in a top-flight season.

"I think we increased the standards of this competition last season," Guardiola said. "We did 100 points. Teams realised that, but only Liverpool handled it. We have to thank them because they helped us be better this season. They had an incredible season, but we did a little bit better.

"Last season was incredible as well, but the other rivals could not maintain our rhythm. We did 18 wins in a row last season. We had to do 14 to be champions this time.

"You saw one week ago, [Liverpool] against Barcelona. They have done that every weekend. They have maintained that level to the end.

"We are so, so tired. But at the same time winning gives you a lot of energy. It's so addictive. We have the FA Cup and we are ready to compete against Watford.

"Then we will prepare well, to come back stronger. Liverpool will maintain it, and the others will be better. United must come back, Chelsea under [Maurizio] Sarri will be better, Tottenham are in the Champions League final and Arsenal will be better as well.

"We accept the challenge and next season we will be back stronger, I promise."

City captain Vincent Kompany echoed his manager by describing this Premier League title, his fourth at the club, as his most "draining".

The 33-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season but he said he is still to decide on whether he will be leaving City this summer.

"This was by far the hardest and most draining," Kompany said. "The first one happened in the last minute but this was constantly knowing you have to win and perform and we defeated one of the all-time great teams in England.

"He [Guardiola] starts everything off. He sets the standards. If he is too nice we don't go and get back-to-back [titles]. I am so motivated now to get the FA Cup as well. We will be celebrating tonight but after that it is about Watford.

"I don't know if I am staying. It's not on my mind. I want to win and win. Once the season is finished we will talk as a family. It is between me and my team and my family."

City found an unlikely hero in Riyad Mahrez, who has been a largely peripheral figure this season after his £60m move from Leicester City last summer. Mahrez was starting only his fourth league game of the calendar year but he struck a terrific third goal for City that sealed the points in the second half at the Amex.

"It is about having multiple players in every position and having them challenge," said Raheem Sterling.

"No one is comfortable and everyone gets their chance. Riyad gets his chance and I knew he would score.

"The manager here is about mentality and it's about winning no matter what. I'm just happy to be under his wing."

Bernardo Silva added: "What a season for us. After last season we did not think we could get close to the points that we did last season. We want the treble. No one has done that and we want to do it." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Magic numbers

98: points for champions City.

14: City’s winning run to close the season.

1: the winning margin was a solitary point for the fifth time in Premier League history

22: the Golden Boot was won with the lowest goal tally since 2010-11 and was shared for the first time since that same season, between Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

15: Chelsea’s Eden Hazard led the league in assists.

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