City. Are. Champions!!

Ten years ago Manchester City gave us the best finish to a Premier League season we have ever seen and on this past Championship Sunday the Cityzens from Manchester have done it again. Aguero’s 93:20 goal against QPR a minute after Dzeko’s stoppage time equalizer was the most exhilarating experience that I have ever had watching football as a City fan and Sunday’s match against Aston Villa felt like a familiar sensation. Gundogan coming on as a super sub and delivering 2 goals in 5 minutes on Sunday felt as close to Kun’s heroics in 2012 as one could get.

It felt like City had lost it for this season. It felt like Liverpool were closing in on a historic quadruple. It felt like City might be capitulating. Wilting under the pressure as Pep Guardiola voraciously drank from his water bottle as he often does to calm himself down when his nerves are getting the best of him in the technical area on the side of the pitch. Aston Villa and Steven Gerrard did their best job to spoil it for City. I am sure Gerrard wanted the result for his side but being a former Liverpool player himself, becoming a hero by helping his beloved Reds win the League would be a very nice byproduct.

For large stretches on Sunday Man City were searching for an answer. Looking for a compass to give them some direction because they were drifting rudderless for that entire first half and the most of the second half as well. Fernandinho, a Manchester City legend, started his final game out of position as a center-back because Pep didn’t want to drop Rodri to the bench and not have a holding midfielder bossing the center of the park like he did in last season’s Champions League Final. This turned out to be a mistake as Villa consistently isolated Ollie Watkins and attacked Fernandinho with long balls in the air that would be tough for a natural centerback to deal with, let alone a lifelong midfielder. Additionally, John Stone was playing out of position as a fullback in Kyle Walker’s normal territory, while Laporte played down the middle and the ambipedal Cancelo was holding down the Left back spot.

Guardiola quickly realized the folly of his initial tactical setup after City conceded a goal on a wicked defender to defender cross and header that saw City go down a goal in the 37th minute of a game they absolutely needed to win. Even though Liverpool was also down a goal at halftime, we all knew that Liverpool was not going to drop points to Wolverhampton at Anfield with a chance to win the championship on the line. Pep Guardiola seeing this error acted quickly and subbed in Oleksandr Zinchenko at left back. Guardiola saw the need for a naturally left footed left back slotting in and moving Cancelo to the right side. This allowed John Stones to slide to his natural position at center-back.

You could immediately see the difference in the team as the back line was holding more firmly and Zinchenko was venturing into the attacking 3rd and taking on fullbacks with the ferocity of an attacking winger. Zinchenko’s energy and pervasive penetration was causing Villa’s defense problems and forcing it to move. Which created spaces that City could exploit. City slowly started building up the pressure on Villa, but close calls and more shots and shots on target in possession still did not beget a goal. Then Coutinho, the former Liverpool man, seemingly put a ragged stake through the heart of City as a long ball was kicked off from their goalkeeper Olsen and flicked on to him perfectly with an aerial header won by Watkins over Rodri. Coutinho received the perfect pass with a sublime touch that received and moved the ball to his right in one motion. This deceptive move gave the appearance that Coutimho may attack the goal centrally, but then he quickly hit a beautiful cutback shot at the near post that beat Laporte and Ederson to put City down 2-0.

My heart dropped to my feet and my legs turned to jelly as my stomach leapt into my mouth. In that moment it truly felt like City were dead and buried. It felt like we would need to root for the Wandering Wolves to pull off an impossible feat and hold Liverpool to a draw since they had now equalized behind a Sadio Mane strike. However, we all knew that after Jurgen Klopp brought Mo Salah on as a late super sub, the game winning goals would soon inevitably follow for Liverpool. We needed some super subs of our own that could help City pull off the improbable. In that moment, it felt impossible.

I whole heartedly believe that it was Pep’s plan to bring Jack Grealish on as a sub against his old team. Lord knows Grealish was doing the best warmups of his life trying to get Pep’s attention to put him in the game. However, the dire circumstances caused Pep to go with known partners that he has been to battle with before. Pep decided to bring on Raheem Sterling for Riyad Mahrez and also brought on Ilkay Gundogan for Bernardo Silva in the 68th minute. Immediately after they were brought into the game, Coutinho cut us open from the nave to the chaps like he was the embodiment of Macbeth in the 69th minute. We were completely unseamed.

The tension and anxiety in the Etihad was tangible. The fear was palpable in the atmosphere. You could sense the uneasiness around the stadium as easily as one can smell chopped onions dropped into hot cooking oil. Manchester City was down 2-0 and needed to score 3 goals in the next 20 minutes or all of the distressing struggles, gleeful goals, and magical moments that City had gone through since last August would be for naught. Raz and Gundo were last minute subs that felt like Hail Mary prayers. Thankfully for all the Cityzen supporters around the world, those prayers were answered by the Football gods in the most emphatic fashion. Seven minutes later, in what would be the craziest most riveting and breathtakingly dramatic 5 minutes and 36 seconds of football that Manchester City had played since they won their first League title in 44 years back in 2012, we had snatched victory from the mandibles of defeat.

We just needed one goal to get the momentum pendulum to swing back in City’s direction and get some belief flowing through the team again. Pep’s hopeful substitutions and innovatively prudent change in tactics paid off in the 76th minute as club legend Raheem Sterling pushed the ball towards the end line by taking on Lucas Digne. Then Sterling played a perfect aerial cross that erased all of Aston Villa’s backline defenders in one majestic fell swoop. The ball dropped in perfectly over the head of the defender (and Villa’s first goal scorer) Matty Cash. Ilkay Gundogan ferociously attacked the ball in the air with a vicious header at the far post that fizzed into the back of the goal. The ball was hit with so much pace and energy I was half surprised that the net didn’t burst into flames and shred “Shaolin Soccer” style. With no celebrations Gundo hastily grabbed the ball out the net and ran back to center field to quickly restart the game with a new kickoff. Everyone in the Etihad knew that it was game on!

It was still not enough though. City needed two more goals if they were going to safely win the title. Liverpool were still tied 1-1 in their match, but we all knew that draw scoreline would not hold up. City had to score 2 more goals in order to win it. Before Villa had a chance to regroup defensively, Zinchenko was back at it taking on defenders with slick ball control, quick twitchy moves, and a fierce competitive desire to win. The diminutive Ukranian was a lifelong midfielder before he came to Manchester and changed his position to be a defender. His innate attacking skills were heavily on display in this match. Zinchenko dribbled the ball around his primary defender got into the penalty box and played an amazing cutback pass to Rodri who had the ambition and audacity to go for goal at the edge of the 18-yard box. This decision took everyone by surprise. Rodri hit the ball with so much pace and force that the ball sped in a straight line and bounced in short hops on the grass that the goalie had no chance to react. In the blink of an eye City were level with a 2-2 tied score.

The Etihad stadium and all of East Manchester were going delirious at this point. Fans, players, coaches, and supporters across the world could not believe what we were watching. I literally couldn’t breathe as I was hyperventilating with excitement and texting my friends and family who were also watching in astonishment. But I was still nervous because the job wasn’t done. We needed to score one more and we needed to do it now since Villa was reeling and all of the momentum was on City’s side. At that time, all I could hear in my head was the voice of Ned Stark from Game of Thrones saying over and over “a winner is coming, a winner is coming.”

Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait for long and the winner did indeed come. In the 81st minute, Joao Cancelo delivered a searching through ball pass for Gaby Jesus who was defended well by Tyrone Mings. The ball was parried into an open space that Kevin De Bruyne was quicker to react to. The EPL Player of the Year sprinted to the space, won possession of the ball, took the ball, and dragged Mings wide with him. Then KDB17 delivered a sumptuous pass across the face of goal and Ilkay Gundogan was there for the tap in goal at the far post to put City on top! I was so unbelievably happy and excited that I started screaming and clapping like I was in the stands. I frightened my good luck charm children who were watching the game with me.

The great Pat Riley famously said “there’s winning and then there’s misery.” Within a span of 5 and a half minutes the Sky Blues went from the worst form of misery to the emotional joys of winning. I got goosebumps as I watched Kyle Walker run down the pitch like a mad man, grab the corner flag with the Manchester City banner, and gesticulated to celebrate with the fans. Pep Guardiola shed real hysterical tears at the final whistle when it became official and he realized the absolutely amazing and rare achievement that his squad had pulled off. Four titles in five years. This is a true dynasty with an all-world rival in Liverpool constantly pushing Pep and his boys to higher heights.

My eyes got misty as well as the tunes of “Blue Moon” and “Champion Ole” were being sung in the stands. I was so proud of the guys for fighting until the very end. I smiled from ear-to-ear and kissed the badge on my Man City shirt while the fireworks and confetti were going off as the Cityzens lifted the EPL trophy once again. I never thought I would ever see another come from behind win for City to secure the EPL crown in a title race that came down to the last few minutes of the last match of the season again. It was stressful going through it on Sunday, but now that we have successfully come out of it on the other side- I am happier for having gone through it. Thank you City.

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