As the determiner of an ultimate champion, the soccer system is great. The table never lies and every match matters and you always know that, come the end of the long, grueling season, the team that stacked up the most points will hoist the trophy above their heads in front of their adoring fans with the singular joy and satisfaction that comes from knowing that you’ve really earned something. That said, crowning a champion in this way does have its drawbacks. Like how sometimes the culmination of even the most impressive title campaigns ends not with a bang, but with a whimper.
This was the case of the now-decided 2017-18 Premier League title. Manchester City were miles better than everybody else all season long and demonstrated this by flattening all comers. What was supposed to be a hotly contested title race instead became, by about the season’s midpoint, a one-horse sprint to see just how quickly City could lock up the trophy. That date of City’s eventual coronation wound up being April 15th, a full month before the end of the season. On paper, it’s a stunning accomplishment off the back of a season full of them. In reality, it was aggressively anticlimactic.
The first step on City’s title-winning weekend was for them to beat Tottenham. The stakes were higher than they might’ve seemed. After blowing a golden opportunity at an iconic title-winning victory against Manchester United last weekend, and coming off a second loss to Liverpool in the Champions League just a couple days later, City were under heavy pressure to right the ship and prevent their still remarkable season from losing any more of its luster. Ideally they’d have some patsy on the schedule whom they could roll without breaking a sweat. Instead, they had to travel to London to play Spurs, one of the best teams in the world coached by an elite manager capable of drawing up a gameplan that could make City’s life hell. The fixture itself promised to be one of the toughest matches of City’s season, and on the heels of their disastrous prior week, and they had to know full well that another loss would only continue the cascade of criticism and ridicule and doubt that has been coming their way. While any result, even a loss, wouldn’t seriously alter whether the Mancs would go on to win the title, there was still a whole lot riding on the match.
Which made City’s fairly breezy 3-1 victory all the more commendable. It’s never easy to play against a motivated, full-strength Tottenham, but City made it look as close to easy as possible. The Citizens were buoyed by an early 2-0 lead less than a half an hour in, and only some uncharacteristically poor finishing from Gabriel Jesus and some perfectly characteristic horrendous shooting from Raheem Sterling kept the match close. (And man, Sterling really can’t shoot for shit. It’s hard to think of another player with such a glaring flaw to his game keeping him from unquestioned superstar status as Sterling’s god-awful ball striking limits his game. That he’s still so fucking great in spite of his inability to kick the ball straight is a testament to how amazing he is at every other facet of the game.) Tottenham got a goal back right before halftime during a stretch when it looked like City might panic away their lead the way they did against United, but Pep Guardiola’s men showed laudable reserves of mental strength by weathering the onslaught, reestablishing dominance, and seeing out the win.
That result on Saturday set up what promised to be a pretty cool if still somewhat disappointing cap to the title race. With three points in the bag from the Tottenham match, City were only a single game away from securing the title. Next on their schedule was a home match against Swansea next weekend, and the weakness of the Swans and the promise of lifting the trophy in front of the home fans looked to be a perfect stage for a high-scoring, joyous, trophy-winning match. Again, it wouldn’t compare to a title-deciding Manchester Derby win, but it would be a tasty treat for themselves and their fans nonetheless.
But then United came in and messed it all up.
If Man United ruined City’s trophy plans last week in delicious fashion by being the best versions of themselves, then they sort of did so once again this weekend, albeit in a lame, self-effacing way. United somehow found a way to lose to West Brom, and in doing so handed City the title. By falling to West Brom, United robbed their rivals of a triumphant title-winning match of their own, and instead ended the title race in the least climactic way imaginable. We might be inclined to believe it was a bit of diabolical genius on behalf of United to fumble away three points to the worst team in the Premier League just to deny City the glory of actively winning it themselves if José Mourinho weren’t so self-evidently wounded and defensive about the loss in his postgame interviews:
The main takeaway here should be just how badly City boned the closing of the title last weekend. Instead of ending things on what would’ve been an unforgettable note, City’s title chase—one of the most awe-inspiring runs in the league’s history—culminated with Jay Rodriguez scoring on a late winner against a lazy United bunch on a day when City weren’t even playing. Winning the title last week would’ve been so cool! Doing so this week was so lame! There’s no one to blame for this massive discrepancy between the would’ve-been coolness of last weekend and the lameness of this weekend but the City players and coaches themselves!
Thankfully, City still have the chance to wrap up the season in style. With five matches to go, they only need 13 points to become the first Premier League team to crack 100 points in a season, and all of their remaining opponents suck. Hitting the century mark would be an achievement befitting of City’s amazing season, and might redeem them a tiny bit for how they messed up the Manchester Derby. They better not let this opportunity pass them by.