At the end of the night, Erling Haaland was pointing his index finger towards the camera, suggesting the job wasn’t done yet.

Stand-in goalkeeper Stefan Ortega posted a picture on Instagram with his ‘player-of-the-match’ award, and the words, ‘one more to go’.

Jeremy Doku posted on X ‘Job done, one more to go.’

But anyone who has followed Manchester City over the years would know that Sunday could be a matter of mere formality. City might want to make you believe it might be fallible against West Ham United, but it won’t be a finality.

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On Tuesday night, City had defused any tension of a dramatic finish to the title race. City beat Tottenham Hotspur at its new stadium for the first time in the Premier League. Haaland had finally scored against a top-six side this season. Rodri might never lose a game of football again. And Pep Guardiola will become the first manager in English football to win four successive league titles.

Everything is swimmingly predictable in City’s world. Even the 115 charges levelled against it for financial irregularity might find a favourable resolution (whenever the ruling arrives).

What was supposed to be a title-decider, involving only one title-chasing team, didn’t appear to pose any real threat, apart from that one moment, when Heung-min Son galloped down on goal with only City’s second-choice goalkeeper to beat. Looking on, Guardiola fell to the floor as if a sniper had taken him out before Ortega’s right foot revived the Spaniard.

If Son had slotted it slightly wide of Ortega’s left or right foot and made it 1-1, many Arsenal fans around the world would have campaigned for a statue of the South Korean outside the Emirates.

Instead, they were left berating the Spurs forward for his ‘Spursy’ moment. Tottenham didn’t exactly phone it in. A Champions League place was on the line. But so was the ignominy of having a helping hand in city archrival Arsenal’s first league title win in 20 years. The atmosphere at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was strange, to say the least, for a midweek fixture under the lights. City weren’t hassled and harried from the get-go by a weakened Tottenham XI.

Guardiola didn’t out-think himself either in this crucial fixture. He played the midfielders in midfield roles and defenders in their appropriate roles. He even got in Kovacic as another midfield shield in the center of the park. The midfield trio of Bernardo Silva, Rodri and Kovacic didn’t let City overrun in midfield but openings were hard to come by. Haaland didn’t have a single touch in the Spurs penalty box in the first half.

Haaland was playing his role well though; holding up play, creating space for the creative players to exploit and offering a threat behind Spurs’ defence. But he too had a point to prove. He hadn’t scored a goal against a top-six team in the league or the Champions League knockout ties. 

Erling Haaland shoots a penalty kick and scores his team’s second goal.

Erling Haaland shoots a penalty kick and scores his team’s second goal.
| Photo Credit:
AFP

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Erling Haaland shoots a penalty kick and scores his team’s second goal.
| Photo Credit:
AFP

Haaland’s overall contribution to the team had come into question when he didn’t get himself on the scoresheet. Roy Keane had compared him to a ‘League Two’ striker. But last night, when an opportunity presented itself, Haaland tapped in de Bruyne’s perfect cutback across the face of the goal. It was his 26th league goal of the season and his 38th overall in what is supposedly a middling season for the Norwegian.

After Son’s missed chance, Haaland doubled the lead from the spot-kick in the 91st minute. In between, City lost de Bruyne and Ederson to injuries but it didn’t seem to alter City’s course.

City’s depth in talent – 100 million Jack Grealish spent his evening on the bench – helped it see out the win.

Guardiola, too, reiterated his players’ sentinents. “The hardest game is the last one,” he told  Optus Sport. But one has seen City do it all before.

It happened in 2021-22 and then 2022-23. And now this season, City did it again. City strung along Arsenal until the end in the hope of a slip-up which never came.

Chasing the unprecedented feat, many had written City off around the midway point in December when it slipped to fourth with three defeats and four draws. After the banality of City’s procession to the title in recent seasons, the narrative around the ongoing campaign was that one was witnessing a multi-team title race with the prospect of a fresh champion.

Then, Tottenham Hotspur lost its footing. Then Aston Villa tumbled along the way. Then it was the usual suspects of Arsenal, Liverpool and City.

Liverpool persisted and looked to ride the emotional wave of its charismatic manager Jurgen Klopp’s farewell tour. But the Reds failed to hit the right notes in the final stretch. Arsenal thought it was best equipped to overcome last year’s shortcomings with its improved defence but offered City the slightest of openings when the Gunners turned their attention towards Bayern Munich in Europe.

But City did what City does best. After the loss to Aston Villa on December 6, City is now on a 22-game unbeaten run in the league with 18 wins to move within three points of the title. It is also unbeaten in 34 matches in all competitions, losing to Real Madrid on penalties in the Champions League quarterfinal while making another FA Cup final.

This feat is in keeping with its previous campaigns. In the treble-winning 2022-23 season, City staged a comeback through a 15-game unbeaten run to fend off Arsenal and wrap up the league win.

In 2021-22, City managed 15 (14 wins, 1 draw) and 12 (9 wins, 3 draws) game unbeaten runs, helping it stay on top for 24 game weeks. City pipped Liverpool by just a point. Even in the 2020-21 season, Manchester United’s stuttering challenge was undone by City’s 19-game midseason unbeaten run.

Arsenal and neutrals’ hopes of jeopardy to City’s run to the title might appear on the final day, but City has the might and the know-how to snuff it out. They did it in 2012, 2014, 2019 and 2022. The finality will be that of City and Guardiola’s coronation.

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