And there we have it. In the end, it wasn’t so much a title race – more the adult giving the child a massive head start, letting them think they might win it, before comfortably reeling them in as close to the finish line as would teach them the biggest lesson possible.
Yes, Arsenal have been Pepped to the post – City, as I suspect we all knew deep down, will be the 2022/23 Premier League champions (unless the Premier League pull their finger out on that whole financial fair play investigation thing which you know, feels highly unlikely).
The hopeful shouts of “if City are still in the Champions League they’ll focus on that” and “Pep might overthink it” or “Haaland has made them worse” and even “United won it with kids, remember!” all ended up being as accurate as Leonardo Trossard’s little flick round the corner against Brighton on Sunday. City have been relentless in their pursuit of Micky Arteta’s team and in the end, the pressure was too much.
Did they choke? Did they bottle it? It feels far too easy and lazy (something this column admittedly specialises in) to say that. Manchester City are just the biggest white shark in English football right now – they can smell blood from almost any distance and stalk their prey no matter how long it takes. Kevin de Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan are the brain and sensory organs – Erling Haaland is their massive frightening teeth.
Everton will have briefly thought they could have nicked a point at Goodison Park – but moments after Mason Holgate missed a sitter felt like the ideal moment for Peppy G’s killers to kill. Firstly Gundogan scored a goal that would have sat nicely in Dennis Bergkamp’s list of best Premier League moments of art and then Haaland added another to his new record. In a matter of minutes, it was yet another predatory strike – another prey eaten alive. Not even the Eurovision Song Contest seems able to derail the City Express.
Rather than look happy with the win, Guardiola felt his energy was better spent giving Yerry Mina a telling-off for his physical approach to containing Haaland. And, as we already knew, Mina is no Tony Rudiger. But Pep, come on – don’t get stressed about Everton. It’s Everton.
The win moved City four points ahead of Arsenal before they kicked off at home to Brighton – a team who love to attack and do not fear losing. And that made them very dangerous.
Roberto de Zerbi deserved his 3-0 win and definitely got his cardio in for the day with his touchline sprint of a celebration. Arsenal have now conceded 25 at home, which is a few too many when you are hoping to win a title. They also become the first team to win the first seven matches of the Premier League season on the bounce and not lift the trophy since, er, Arsenal in 2008/09.
As Martin Odergaard said, “the hope has gone” and where City are concerned it is probably the very same hope that kills you. Arsenal are young – they will bounce back from this you’d imagine and have another go next season. They might even go shopping in Brighton, which does seem to be the current Premier League production line – much in the way their now-relegated rivals Southampton used to be. You can’t imagine Alexis Mac Allister, Moises Caciedo or the excellent Mitoma will be without mega-offers this summer – but then Brighton already have Buanotte, Encisco and Ferguson coming into Bloom. What a club – let’s hope European football next season doesn’t hurt them.
At Elland Road, the security looked about as secure as Leeds’ back four – a ‘fan’ managed to get into Eddie Howe’s face and offer him some tactical advice. Funny, Jason Tindall didn’t seem as keen to be front and centre in that moment, did he?
Leeds had a proper go at Newcastle and were let down by two familiar issues – Patrick Bamford being wildly inconsistent on the rare occasions his body lets him play football and players like Junior Firpo being picked to play defence in a team that already has enough defensive issues.
The fact there was a silent moan from Leeds fans when Bamford stepped up to take the penalty that would have put them 2-0 up says a lot about their faith. And the fact that Newcastle fans were audibly gutted about Junior Firpo being sent off tells you much about his day out – they clearly felt there was a better chance of them getting a winner if he was still on the pitch.
Firpo actually won Leeds’ penalty by being uncoordinated enough that Joelinton as lured into making contact with him – Pope saved Bamford’s weak penalty before Calum Wilson got two chances to show him how to take them, the second after Firpo inexplicably handled a cross.
Overall, Leeds were a bit better than BBS (before Big Sam) but they need more than being a bit better to stay up.
Someone else will get the opportunity to be the best free-kick taker in the Premier League next season – that is, of course, unless James Ward-Prowse bails on Southampton after their toothless relegation to the Championship. The Saints lost 2-0 to Fulham which confirmed their fate – and they’ll most likely need a new manager to get them back up again, probably on a shoestring budget. If only their data could uncover a manager of Championship pedigree with a decent track record of success with no money at that level, eh?
At the start of the season, Steve Cooper will have looked at the Chelsea fixture with three games to go thinking “yikes, that won’t help us if we are in a relegation battle”. On Sunday morning, he was probably regretting not taking the free hit of three points that a game at Stamford Bridge has become. Forest can be hopeful of staying up with the current situation, however.
West Ham think they are safe and they probably are – meaning Sunday’s 2-0 defeat to Brentford matters little as they didn’t pick up any knocks ahead of their European Conference League semi second leg against AZ. They’ll go down next season instead – you heard it here first.
Who needs Wilf Zaha when you have Ebe Eze and Michael Olise, two young creative talents being guided by the Godfather himself? Zaha went off injured and will probably not be seen in a Palace shirt at Selhurst Park again – but there is no need for the fans to be too down. Eze and Olise, let off the leash, will have more space to flourish out of his shadow next season – especially if Hodgson’s missus still wants him out of the house.
Tottenham away from home? May as well chalk that up as a big L straight away. Just don’t forget to add Harry Kane’s customary consolation goal. Aston Villa, still hoping to sneak into Unai Emery’s favourite European competition beat them 2-1 without even breaking sweat.
Man United at home? Probably a clean sheet. Better than that for Eric ten Hag, Anthony Martial scored and briefly looked like United’s centre forward. Rather than worrying too much about Liverpool hot on their heels, Ten Hag can now aim to finish 3rd and let Newcastle worry about blowing a top four finish.
And at Chelsea, the shocking news that Frank Lampard WON’T be asked to stay broke on Sunday night. As hard as it was to believe, the new owners have decided it might be better to let Mauricio Pochettino have a go and fitting 32 into 11 next season. Strange, I know.