Wed 15 May 2019, 6:00 AM
There was an almost perfect symmetry to the fact Manchester City’s successful defence of our Premier League crown was secured at Brighton’s Amex Stadium.
For in securing consecutive crowns at the home of the Seagulls, City’s stunning twin title story has essentially come full circle.
If we rewind back 21 months to August 12, 2017, it was at the atmospheric venue down on the south coast that City’s historic back-to-back Premier League title adventure truly began to take shape.
The lengthy trip to the Amex that late summer afternoon marked the first assignment in a 2017/18 campaign that would ultimately end with City not only creating history by becoming the first side in English history to amass 100 points but also garnering widespread praise from all corners of the globe for the mesmerising manner in which that success was achieved.
Just as this Sunday proved a nervy affair – at least in a fretful first half hour – that initial clash back on the opening day of last season also proved to be a game of patience.
Newly promoted to the top-flight after finishing runners-up in the Championship the previous season, Brighton proved more than formidable opponents.
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A City side featuring three starting debutants in Ederson, Kyle Walker and Danilo, along with fellow summer signing Bernardo Silva, who came off the bench, struggled to impose our authority for much of the game with the Seagulls threatening on several occasions.
In what was a close-fought and tense affair, we had to wait until the 70th minute and an exquisite finish from predator supreme Sergio Aguero before we finally able to prise open the Seagulls’ stubborn defence and break the hosts’ resistance.
An own goal from Brighton defender Lewis Dunk five minutes later ensured that City would return to Manchester with all three points – and more crucially – with our belief and confidence emboldened as to the rigours ahead.
It was the perfect way to kick-start the season.
Saturday, August 12, 2017 3:33 PM
And even more significantly, the victory was the prelude to a campaign unparalleled in both the scale of achievement and adherence to a brand of beautiful football unseen in English football.
City became not only the first side to smash through the previously unimaginable 100-point barrier but achieved that goal with vivid broad Blue brushstrokes that was met by universal praise with the Carabao Cup also bagged just for good measure.
Record after record tumbled in City’s irrepressible wake while the side also accumulated a breath-taking 18-game winning run across all competitions before Christmas.
Most points (100), most wins (32), most goals (106), most way wins (16), biggest title-winning margin (19 points) … the roll of honour was both dizzying and awe-inspiring but also prompted a pertinent question.
How on earth do you follow that?
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It was an issue that was uppermost in Pep Guardiola’s mind at the onset of this season, but his players have met the challenge in spectacular fashion.
City may have finished two points shy of registering that totemic century points tally again this time round. But in every other regard, there’s an argument to be made that our back-to-back title triumph, if anything, has been an even more trail-blazing achievement.
The fact that no English side had been able to defend their Premier League crown in 10 years until this weekend speaks volumes as to the magnitude of City’s achievement.
Yet other factors throw into sharper focus the extent of our back-to-back success.
For starters City had more players (16) than any other Club involved in last summer’s World Cup finals in Russia – a draining month-long showpiece which didn’t end until early July.
Injuries bit deep too into Guardiola’s squad with 2017/18 talisman Kevin De Bruyne absent for much of the season and fellow key midfield anchor Fernandinho side-lined for 10 weeks of the campaign.
That’s without taking into account the fact that left-back Benjamin Mendy was again forced to miss the majority of the season through a number of frustrating injuries, meaning we again operated without a specialist left-back for the bulk of the campaign.
Sunday, May 12, 2019 2:37 PM
City also had to overcome the fatigue factor, having played eight games more than runners-up Liverpool due to our passage through to the Carabao Cup and FA Cup finals as well as the last eight of the Champions League. In total, we’ve played 60 matches in all competitions this so far this season, with an FA Cup final still to go.
Above all, though, there was the formidable spectre of the challenge from Liverpool who, as we went into 2019, had opened up a seven-point lead over City.
It proved to be a titanic tussle that saw the lead at the top of the table switch hands a staggering 32 times over the course of the campaign.
Following the disappointment of a fourth league defeat of the season at Newcastle in late January, City knew there was no room for margin and so it proved as we embarked on a phenomenal run of 13 consecutive league victories.
That set the scene for Sunday’s date with destiny with City back in Brighton on the sun-drenched south coast, with Guardiola’s side knowing there was no margin for error.
As with our last encounter at the Amex 21 months earlier, it was a tense, stress-inducing opening made all the more so with the Seagulls taking the lead through Glenn Murray’s first-half header just after news had filtered through that Liverpool were leading in their final game at home to Wolves.
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Lesser sides would have wilted under the pressure and expectation.
City however simply redoubled the steely focus and attention to detail that have been key by-words in our success and within 83 seconds we were level through Sergio Aguero.
With the anxiety levels reduced, City upped the ante and did what do best of all – produce football of the highest quality under the most severe of stress tests.
Superb goals followed from Aymeric Laporte, Riyad Mahrez and Ilkay Gundogan which both broke the Seagulls’ resistance and secured a 14th consecutive league win to deliver the ultimate prize a second successive Premier League title.
From Brighton to Brighton, the numbers alone have proved jaw dropping.
From 76 games played, 198 points were gathered – including last season’s historic breaking of the 100-point barrier. At an average of 2.61 points per game, it’s a figure almost defies belief.
Sunday, May 12, 2019 6:41 PM
On top of that City accumulated 106 goals last season, registering 32 wins and 100 points
This time round we plundered 95 goals in the league, racking up another 32 wins and conceded just 22 goals.
That’s the stuff of champions in any language.
And for the record, here’s how we lined up in those two Brighton clashes:
Brighton v City (Aug 12 2017): Ederson, Walker, Kompany, Otamendi, Stones, Danilo, Fernandinho, De Bruyne, D Silva, G Jesus, Aguero
Subs: Bravo, Mangala, Yaya Toure, Foden, Sterling, Bernardo, Sane
Brighton v City (May 12 2019): Ederson, Walker, Zinchenko, Kompany, Laporte, Gundogan, D Silva, Sterling, Mahrez, Aguero, Bernardo
Subs: De Bruyne, Danilo, Otamendi, Jesus, Muric, Stones, Sane