The Manchester City players celebrate with the English Premier League trophy (Getty Images)
LONDON, May 11: Manchester City were confirmed as English Premier League (EPL) champions on Sunday after pipping Liverpool to first place on the season’s final day.
Here, AFP Sports takes a look back at how the most unpredictable and enthralling title race in recent memory unfolded:
Manchester City welcomed new manager Manuel Pellegrini with a 4-0 thrashing of Newcastle United at Eastlands, only to slip up at promoted Cardiff in their next game. The ill-fated David Moyes era at Manchester United began with a 4-1 win at Swansea City, but there was an early sign of the troubles that lay ahead as Chelsea, who started Jose Mourinho’s second spell in charge with seven points from three games, secured a 0-0 draw in a dour clash at Old Trafford. Arsene Wenger was subjected to abuse from Arsenal fans after his side opened the season with a dismal 3-1 home defeat against Aston Villa.
Liverpool extended their 100 percent winning start with a 1-0 victory against Manchester United and Moyes’s misery continued with a humiliating 4-1 loss at Manchester City, before West Bromwich Albion won at Old Trafford for the first time since 1978. Mourinho suffered his first league loss of the campaign as Everton beat Chelsea 1-0, while Mesut Ozil’s arrival from Real Madrid for a club record £42.5 million ($70.7 million, 51.6 million euros) lifted Arsenal’s spirits, as did a 1-0 win over local rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
City goalkeeper Joe Hart was dropped by Pellegrini after his mistake led to a last-gasp 2-1 loss at second-place Chelsea. That defeat left City six points behind Arsenal, who shot to the top of the table with a run of seven wins in eight matches. Liverpool, two points behind the Gunners, were starting to emerge as surprise challengers, while spluttering champions United already lagged eight points behind the leaders.
There was a rare highlight in United’s miserable campaign as Robin van Persie’s goal against his former club secured a 1-0 win over leaders Arsenal, but Wenger’s men had already claimed a 2-0 win against Liverpool earlier in the month and they remained the title pace-setters. Liverpool’s leaky defence was exposed in a dramatic 3-3 draw at Everton and a 3-1 loss at Hull City. Chelsea wobbled with a loss at Newcastle, while City’s brilliant home form and away-day struggles continued as they crushed Norwich 7-0 and hit Tottenham for six, only to crash 1-0 at Sunderland in between.
Chelsea finished the year in ominous fashion, frustrating Arsenal with a 0-0 draw at the Emirates Stadium before beating Liverpool 2-1 to close to within two points of the table-topping Gunners, whose eventual collapse in the second half of the season was foreshadowed by an injury to key midfielder Aaron Ramsey. Arsenal also slumped to an embarrassing 6-3 loss at City, who enjoyed a vital win over Liverpool on Boxing Day and were only one point off the top going into 2014. Brendan Rodgers’s Reds had scored 17 goals in four matches, including a 5-0 win at Tottenham, but were still six points adrift of the summit.
Liverpool’s free-scoring style was back on display in a 5-3 win at Stoke City and a 4-0 demolition derby against Everton, but rampant City matched them goal for goal, winning four in a row and going top of the table at the end of the month with a brilliant 5-1 victory at Tottenham. Second-place Arsenal were one point behind after taking 10 points from a possible 12, with Chelsea, inspired by Samuel Eto’o's hat-trick in a 3-1 win over Manchester United, also still in the hunt despite a 0-0 draw against West Ham United that left Mourinho bemoaning the defensive visitors’ “football from the 19th century”.
After criticising West Ham’s cautious approach, Mourinho adopted an equally conservative attitude in Chelsea’s next match at Manchester City and it worked to perfection as Branislav Ivanovic’s goal secured a 1-0 win that seemed to signal the start of the Blues’ march to the title. They won four of their next five matches to move one point clear at the top. City stumbled again with a draw at Norwich City, while second-place Arsenal were rapidly running out of steam, with a 5-1 thrashing at Liverpool followed by a lacklustre goalless draw with Manchester United. In contrast, Liverpool were just hitting their stride and the victory over Arsenal kicked off a winning run that took them within touching distance of the title.
After starting the month in fourth — seven points behind the leaders — Liverpool swept to the summit with a series of scintillating displays, including a 3-0 win at Old Trafford, a 6-3 victory over Cardiff City, and a 4-0 rout of Tottenham that left them two points clear. Second-place Chelsea had looked sublime in a 6-0 hammering of Arsenal that overshadowed Wenger’s 1,000th match in charge, but they imploded in spectacular fashion as a 1-0 loss at Aston Villa, including red cards for Ramires, Willian and Mourinho, was followed by another shock defeat at Crystal Palace. The main challengers to Liverpool were City, who finished the month four points adrift but with two games in hand after a 3-0 defeat of Manchester United and a 1-1 draw at Arsenal.
As Anfield rocked in celebration after an emotional 3-2 win over City, it seemed Liverpool were finally set to end their 24-year wait to be crowned champions. A 3-2 success at Norwich the following week was Liverpool’s 11th consecutive victory and they left Carrow Road knowing three more wins would clinch the title. But, with the finish line in sight, the title slipped away in agonising fashion as captain Steven Gerrard gifted a goal to Demba Ba, sparking a 2-0 Chelsea win at Anfield which put the destiny of the trophy back in City’s hands. Pellegrini’s side, who had looked out for the count after a 2-2 draw with Sunderland, took full advantage with a crucial 2-0 win at Crystal Palace, leaving them three points behind with a game in hand and a superior goal difference.
City knew the crown would be theirs with three more wins and they negotiated the toughest hurdle — a trip to their unhappy hunting ground of Everton’s Goodison Park — with a gutsy 3-2 win. There was more good news to come as Liverpool’s error-prone defence suffered one last collapse, conceding three goals in the last 11 minutes of an incredible 3-3 draw at Palace. Reds striker Luis Suarez left the pitch in tears and City piled on the misery 48 hours later with a 4-0 win against Aston Villa. It set the stage for the final day of the season, when a straightforward 2-0 win against West Ham United at Eastlands sealed their second title in three years.