Sergio Agüero’s time at Manchester City is coming to an end, but he certainly won’t be forgotten so quickly. The club’s 182nd Premier League goal and their first open game in 12 months ensured that City won their fifth title in a decade since arriving at Atletico Madrid.
A victory by defending champions Liverpool against second-placed Manchester United on Sunday will confirm what we all knew would happen some time ago.
This was City’s 11th consecutive away win since the draw at Old Trafford on December 12 – equaling the record set by Chelsea in 2008 and City in 2017 – with an aggregate score of 28-4. The only question now is whether they can beat Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday and reach the Champions League final for the first time. In this form, you would not bet against it.
At one point, it looked like City were still suffering from the hangover of finishing 18 points behind Liverpool last season and may have trouble fighting for the title again. But the unbeaten run of 28 games in all competitions that stretched since November before being closed by United in early March laid the foundation for the success they are now achieving.
After spending much of the season playing without a recognized striker with great success, Guardiola chose two here, as Ederson, Rodri and João Cancelo were the only holders of the first leg of the semi-final against PSG to retain their places .
City have been on the road since the surprise defeat to Leeds on April 10 – a six-game streak and over 3,000 miles – and Pep Guardiola said beforehand that, unsurprisingly, some of his players were tired of his exploits .
With rumors of a possible free transfer to Chelsea still spinning, Agüero was making his fifth start to the Premier League season, having accumulated almost 400 in the previous decade. The Argentine – at 32 was no longer the guiding thread he was – was implanted in a deeper role behind Gabriel Jesus in one of Guardiola’s more conventional formations, although he was a Palace striker who had the best initial opportunity.
Christian Benteke’s contract also ended in the summer and his timid header from a perfect cross by Andros Townsend was an illustration of why Palace is in no hurry to offer the club record signing another extension.
Raheem Sterling was not much better at the other end, after dribbling in the area and hitting the shot away from the target, under pressure from Tyrick Mitchell.
An excellent interaction between Agüero and Jesus that demanded a last-minute release from Joel Ward was a glimpse of the partnership’s potential to lead the attack. But a City defense, without the security of Rúben Dias – who took his place on a bench full of stars alongside Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden and the others – thanked him for escaping without suffering when Ederson blocked the kick from Benteke to the goal. .
The organization of the palace – a trademark of Roy Hodgson – continued to frustrate visitors and a volley from Jesus was correctly canceled by impediment on 36 minutes.
Doubts remain as to whether Hodgson will continue next season with the former England manager, who turned 74 in August, still without offering a new contract.
In addition to a brief pressure just before the break, Palace’s discipline in closing spaces for his opponents was an illustration of why he will not be easily replaced.
It was the first time in 21 games that City failed to score on goal in the first half – a statistic that would not have pleased their coach. But while Foden, Ilkay Gündogan and Bernardo Silva were sent early to warm up, Guardiola resisted the temptation to make a change.
After yet another last-minute release from Jesus, his faith was rewarded when Agüero controlled Benjamin Mendy’s inside pass and landed a shot that surpassed Vicente Guaita from 15 meters away. While receiving applause from his teammates, Guardiola exchanged an imaginary hat for City’s record scorer.
“I finally managed to play, I am very happy,” said Agüero. “I haven’t played for 90 minutes in a long time. I am very happy for the goal and hope to win the title tomorrow. “
The dispute ended 84 seconds later, when Sterling and Jesus combined to create Ferran Torres, who kicked the ball into the net from the edge of the area, which generated a huge celebration in the corner – this time led by substitute De Bruyne. It was City’s 700th goal in all competitions since Guardiola took charge in the summer of 2016 – 157 more than any other Premier League team.
Even after the quick one-two, City was not finished and could easily have expanded their lead had it not been for Guaita and some frantic Palace defense.
“You have to be connected all the time against City,” said Mitchell. “They don’t give you a second’s rest. It is a great experience to play against them. “
Jesus was one of those who failed the most, as the visitors hit 13 shots in the second half. But the afternoon already belonged to Agüero.