For a club like Milan, 11 years make for a long wait.

Let alone the enormous hierarchical changes that have taken place at Casa Milan over that period, with turbulent changes of ownership and coaches that have impacted various transformations in approach both on and off the pitch, those 11 years in European football have witnessed a seismic tactical shift.

The Rossoneri's last Serie A title in 2010-11 sits as a stark contrast to this year's title charge that ended in success, glory sealed on Sunday with a 3-0 win at Sassuolo.

In 2010-11, the Scudetto was like a perfect storm – upon Massimiliano Allegri's hiring as coach, Alexandre Pato was coming into his own before injuries started to take their toll, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva were solidifying their respective statuses as world-class footballers in their positions, amid the career tail-ends of Clarence Seedorf and Alessandro Nesta.

That Milan team was inherently reflective of its time, leaning on the likes of Ibrahimovic, Pato and Robinho to provide goals, moments and the eventual title. Despite Ibrahimovic's added contribution of 12 assists that season, their equal share of 14 league goals each was fitting. But coming into the final game of the season this weekend, Rafael Leao was the only Milan player to have scored over 10 goals.

Reflecting the totality of role that midfields at the top of European football must now characterise, Milan have effectively challenged for the Scudetto this season – and last season – without a front third it can lean on. Less diplomatically, Milan's front third has been a collection of misfit toys jumbled together as the purse strings have tightened.

Despite falling away after Christmas, it is what made last season's run so distinct, for it was ultimately volatile in the second half of the season and served as a precursor to this term. Following Ismael Bennacer and Ibrahimovic's injuries against Napoli in November 2020, Milan were performing the proverbial smash and grab on a weekly basis, on the back of Franck Kessie's penalty exploits and Theo Hernandez doing Theo Hernandez things at left-back. Their 3-2 win over Lazio coming into that Christmas was a particularly distinct example.

How has this Milan team achieved this Serie A title with a largely dysfunctional frontline in possession? How do the Rossoneri build something sustainable from it, given the Scudetto for this project has arguably come ahead of schedule, despite losing Gianluigi Donnarumma to Paris Saint-Germain, along with successive injury spells for Ibrahimovic and Simon Kjaer?

In contrast to last season, Milan have come home strongly, going undefeated since their loss in mid-January to Spezia. Following the African Cup of Nations as well as a debilitative run of injuries and Covid-19, Bennacer has finally been able to put together a consistent run of games since February. With the arguable exception of Marcelo Brozovic, the 24-year-old has re-established himself as the best midfielder in Serie A.

Along with the ever-improving Sandro Tonali, the diminutive Algerian gives Milan oxygen while taking it away from the opposition, in both attacking and defensive senses. The latter is a critical aspect for under Stefano Pioli, Milan press high up the pitch more than any team in Serie A. Among players over 500 minutes, Bennacer leads the team for combined tackles and interceptions (4.08) per 90.

Something that's particularly important is how he can compress the pitch and close off the middle for the opposition through where he wins the ball, not simply how much of it he wins. Bennacer has an innate ability to step onto the opposition's initial pass into Milan's defensive half and come out with the ball, allowing the Rossoneri to spring into transition or maintain territorial superiority.

 

 

His spatial awareness also transfers to the offensive side of the game, as an extension of the simple fact he shows for the ball to feet in areas his team-mates in midfield do not.

It unlocks his technical aptitude and sense of balance on the ball, with the ability to wriggle out of tight spots and get the team up the pitch. As a result, Bennacer (2.18) dwarfs Tonali (1.05) and Kessie (1.34) for successful dribbles per 90, while seeing more of the ball over the course of a game and in more damaging areas, with 83.9 touches per 90 in comparison to Tonali's 65.51 and Kessie's 66.63.

 

 

Meanwhile, Kessie playing a more advanced role in midfield for periods this season has not translated to a correspondent gap in chances created from open play.

Kessie - who scored against Sassuolo - leads the three with 1.05 per 90 this term, in comparison to Tonali's 0.84 and Bennacer's 0.98. Kessie's forthcoming departure for Barcelona might actually unlock Milan's best tandem in Pioli's 4-2-3-1.

With Bennacer, Milan can play through their midfield and not have to rely on the attacking force of nature at left-back that is Hernandez. His open play xG p90 of 0.11 and 1.06 chances created from open play p90 is simply eyewatering from left-back - especially in comparison to Alessandro Florenzi and Pierre Kalulu's respective 0.55 and 0.34 in the latter category.

Ultimately, amid Ibrahimovic running on fumes at 40, the members of Milan's attack have largely singular skill sets and as a sum of their parts, are still largely inflexible.

 

Players like Leao, Alexis Saelemaekers, Olivier Giroud and Junior Messias – and even Ante Rebic when available - are all necessary in some capacity on top of what they provide in defensive pressure up the pitch, but with the ball Milan are a much less flexible team in the absence of that Tonali/Bennacer tandem – something last weekend's win over Atalanta arguably only reinforced despite the result.

The need to maximise midfield balance in relation to attacking personnel is a distinct dynamic across Serie A, particularly in contrast to Juventus' diminishing power and as the arms race for forwards intensifies across the rest of the top five. Yet in a season where the Italian title winner will not break 90 points, none reflect that dynamic more than the Rossoneri.

The narrative accompanying Milan's Scudetto triumph this season will be one of a European giant being quote unquote "back". 

Their ability to maintain this level domestically in coming seasons - as well as challenging on the continent, with meek group stage exits in the Champions League like this season only being tolerable for so long among an ambitious fan base - will ultimately depend on how this relatively young team builds around Tonali and Bennacer.

Inter's reign as Serie A champions came to an end on Sunday despite rounding off their campaign with a resounding 3-0 victory over Sampdoria at San Siro.

The Nerazzurri needed to beat Sampdoria on the final day and hope Milan lost against Sassuolo if they were to pip their fierce rivals to top spot.

Inter completed their half of the bargain thanks to a couple of goals for Joaquin Correa after Ivan Perisic had opened the scoring early in the second half.

But it did not matter as Milan were three goals up at half-time against Sassuolo and protected that advantage for a 3-0 win, meaning they – and not Inter – were crowned champions of Italy.

 

At least three goals had been scored in the previous six league meetings between Inter and Sampdoria, but neither side could find a way through in a relatively low-key first half.

Lautaro Martinez grazed the outside of the post with a header and was thwarted by Emil Audero from the best of Inter's opportunities.

The Inter striker was denied again by Audero after the restart, although Simone Inzaghi's side soon found their groove.

In what could be his final game for the club ahead of his contract expiring next month, Perisic picked out the far corner four minutes into the second half to give his side lift-off.

Correa swept in a first-time finish to double Inter's lead, and the Argentina international added another on the turn two minutes later to completely kill off the contest.

Perisic was carried off on a stretcher after sustaining an injury in the build-up to that third goal, which proved to be the last of the meaningful action on the day Inter's spell as top dogs in Italy officially came to an end.

Olivier Giroud scored twice as magnificent Milan ended an 11-year wait to win the Serie A title with a 3-0 defeat of Sassuolo.

Milan only needed a point at the Mapei Stadium on the final day of the season to dethrone city rivals Inter and they made it mission accomplished in style.

There were no sign of nerves from the rampant Rossoneri as the outstanding Rafael Leao set Giroud up for a double and also laid on the third goal for Franck Kessie in a totally one-sided first half.

Stefano Piolo's side eased to victory in a party atmosphere in Reggio Emilia on Sunday, finishing two points clear of Inter to finally claim the Scudetto once again.


Milan swarmed all over Sassuolo from the start, Giroud forcing a save from Andrea Consigli with a bullet header before Fikayo Tomori had an effort cleared off the line.

The Rossoneri were totally dominant and a huge contingent of away fans erupted in the 17th minute when Leao robbed Kaan Ayhan on the halfway line and burst down the left before picking out Giroud, who put the ball between Consigli's legs.

Leao was also the architect for the second goal just after the half-hour mark, dispossessing Gian Marco Ferrari and pulling back from the byline for Giroud to sweep home.

Sassuolo were unable to live with Leao and he surged down the right before laying into the path of the onrushing Kessie, who fired home brilliantly with his left foot nine minutes before half-time.

Milan were in complete control and there was party atmosphere as their supporters were spared final-day tension following a dream first half.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was given a great reception when he replaced Giroud 18 minutes from the end of what might be his last game for Milan and the striker had a goal ruled out for offside against Leao.

Hamed Traore rattled the post late on and that was as close as Sassuolo came to a consolation as Pioli celebrated with his players and staff on the touchline before the final whistle was blown.

Jordan Henderson admits Liverpool's failure to win the Premier League title is tough to take after Manchester City produced a stunning second-half comeback against Aston Villa to end the Reds' quadruple hopes.

Liverpool went into the Premier League's final day needing a win – and a slip-up from Pep Guardiola's men – to be crowned champions.

And despite falling behind to Wolves through Pedro Neto's early goal, the Reds were given hope when City went 2-0 down against Steven Gerrard's Villa.

Although Liverpool recovered to seal a 3-1 win through goals from Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, and Andrew Robertson, they ended the season one point behind Guardiola's team after an Ilkay Gundogan double fired City to an incredible 3-2 victory.

Jurgen Klopp's side have finished as runners-up despite amassing 92 points this campaign – the most of any team to miss out on top spot since their own tally of 97 in 2018-19, when they were again second to City by a single point.

At the end of a dramatic final day, Henderson admitted the disappointment of coming second was hard to digest. 

"It was a tough afternoon for us really. We didn't play particularly well, or as well as we can," he told Sky Sports. 

"Going a goal behind is never easy, but we kept going and we found a way to win, which was pleasing. 

"We didn't really know what the score was [at the Etihad Stadium] because there were too many cheers from the Wolves fans and the Liverpool fans. 

"We are disappointed; we have been in this position before, and it is tough. We found a way today to get the three points, but unfortunately, it wasn't enough."

Henderson made his 56th appearance for Liverpool in all competitions this season against Wolves, the most by any player for a Premier League club in 2021-22.

Having won both domestic cups – each via a penalty shoot-out triumph over Chelsea – Liverpool's pursuit of major silverware is not yet over, with a Champions League final against Real Madrid to come in less than a week.

Despite his disappointment on missing out on the title at the end of an absorbing league campaign, Henderson expressed his pride at Liverpool's efforts after they ended the season with a 19-match unbeaten run (16 wins, three draws).

"We gave absolutely everything all season right up until the end," he added.

"We are very proud of the boys, of what they have done this season, but it is not over yet.

"There is still one game left against a really good side, and we are going to have to be at our best [to beat Real Madrid in the Champions League final]."

Manchester City have done the job, just about.

Their remarkable 3-2 comeback victory over Aston Villa on Sunday ensured that the Premier League title is theirs for a fourth time in five seasons, ending Liverpool's hopes of a remarkable quadruple in the process.

While Liverpool will now turn their full focus to the Champions League final as they look to secure a third trophy of the campaign, Pep Guardiola will look to build on his side's domestic dominance heading into next season.

Erling Haaland's impending arrival is a strong start to doing just that, and City will have another go at the Champions League next term too with the Norway forward leading their line – the issue of playing without a "proper" number nine finally put to bed.

Had Guardiola and City got their way in 2021, they would have had a striker for this season, too, but Tottenham did not budge on their valuation of Harry Kane.

Yet that lack of a natural centre forward has ultimately not proved costly, and here, Stats Perform looks at the key moments behind City's title success.

Grealish arrives, but no Kane

City broke the English transfer record to sign Jack Grealish for £100million, and while the England international's form has at times been questioned, it was a statement of intent from the champions.

That being said, they missed out on Kane, meaning Guardiola would once again have to do it the hard way... or, at least, rely on his plethora of world-class attacking midfielders to play up front.

The failure to sign Kane was highlighted, ironically, in a 1-0 defeat to Spurs to start the season, though City bounced back with 5-0 thrashings of Norwich City and Arsenal.

Supreme at Stamford Bridge 

City fell short in last season's Champions League final against Chelsea, but on September 25, they rocked up at Stamford Bridge and, if the signing of Grealish was a statement of intent made off the pitch, this performance was one made very much on it.

Guardiola's team delivered a stellar display, especially in the first half, with Gabriel Jesus' goal enough to end Chelsea's unbeaten start to the season.

They may have only won 1-0, but City finished with 15 shots to five, registering an xG (expected goals) of 1.4 to 0.2 and dominated the ball (59 per cent).

Old Trafford dominance

City suffered a surprise set-back at the end of October, losing 2-0 at home to Crystal Palace. Fortunately for them, Liverpool drew 2-2 to Brighton and Hove Albion at Anfield on the same day, and Guardiola's team rallied the following week.

A 2-0 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford was as dominant as you could get at the home of a city rival. The xG tells its own story – City's 2.37 to United's 0.75, 16 attempts to five, with five on target from the visitors, who hit the woodwork twice.

Twelve of City's shots came from inside United's area, showing just how easy they found it to carve open their neighbours, who managed just four touches in the opposition box (City had 32, and 92 final-third entries). The victory sparked a 12-game winning run that was bookended by a 1-0 home success over Chelsea and included a 7-0 rout of Leeds United and 6-3 dispatching of Leicester City.

Good fortune at Goodison

A 3-2 home defeat to Spurs snapped a 15-game unbeaten run that had seemingly put City well on track to securing the title with relative ease. And it appeared they may well drop points again in the next match, a tough fixture against relegation-battling Everton at Goodison Park at the end of February.

Phil Foden struck eight minutes from time to seal a 1-0 victory that moved City six points clear at the top of the Premier League, but Everton were denied the chance for a late equaliser from the penalty spot when referee Paul Tierney and VAR Chris Kavanagh failed to spot a handball by Rodri.

The Premier League clarified that the penalty was not awarded because there was insufficient evidence to show the ball struck Rodri below the level of his armpit, not because Richarlison had strayed offside in the build-up, and referees chief Mike Riley subsequently apologised to Everton for the mistake.

"Can this episode affect a whole season? I will review a lot of incidents. It looks offside for Richarlison; if it's not offside, it's a penalty," said Guardiola after the incident. Had Everton been awarded the penalty, and converted it, then the title might well be Liverpool's.

Champions League heartbreak fuels De Bruyne-inspired charge

With both Premier League meetings between the title rivals finishing all square, it was Liverpool who got the edge in the FA Cup in April, winning the semi-final clash 3-2. The sides seemed destined to meet again in the Champions League final, yet Real Madrid had other ideas.

Quicker than Carlo Ancelotti could raise his eyebrow, Madrid turned a tie that seemed all wrapped up in City's favour on its head thanks to two Rodrygo goals, and Karim Benzema's extra-time penalty capped off one of the all-time great comebacks, and one of the all-time worst capitulations, in the competition's history.

Yet City, who had beaten Leeds 4-0, Watford 5-1 and Brighton 3-0 in their previous three league outings, responded with a 5-0 demolition of in-form Newcastle United, with late goals from Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling really doing wonders for their goal difference. To boost their mood, Liverpool had drawn with Spurs at Anfield a day earlier.

That advantage grew further still three days later – Kevin De Bruyne scoring four goals (three with his weaker left foot) in a 5-1 defeat of Wolves.

Gundogan sparks a comeback for the ages

City's second-half comeback against West Ham dashed Liverpool's hopes of a true slip-up, though Riyad Mahrez's penalty miss in that match did allow the Reds to close the gap to one point heading into the final day, meaning Guardiola's side needed a win to guarantee the title.

In a narrative a Hollywood scriptwriter would have done well to dream up, Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard was the manager tasked with ending City's charge and, in the process, giving the Reds the title (should, of course, Jurgen Klopp's team beat Wolves).

And that narrative seemed set to rule when Villa went 2-0 up at the Etihad Stadium thanks to goals from Matty Cash and ex-Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho, with the visitors' two-goal lead still intact going into the last 15 minutes.

But Ilkay Gundogan – on what could well have been his final City appearance – had other ideas.

After coming on from the bench, he hauled City back into it with a header from Raheem Sterling's cross and, following Rodri's equaliser, the Germany international tucked in from a Kevin De Bruyne centre to complete a stunning, title-clinching comeback.

Four of Manchester City's six Premier League triumphs have gone right to the wire, where margins are so fine the title battle can be settled by a single man in a single moment.

Sergio Aguero of course set the standard in 2011-12 with surely the most iconic goal of the Premier League era, defeating QPR at the death and clinching a first City championship in 44 years.

Then, in 2018-19, it was Vincent Kompany's turn. Although the departing City captain made only 17 league appearances that year, he will forever be associated with the title win after his thunderous strike secured a vital late-season victory over Leicester City.

"Where do you want your statue, Vincent Kompany?" asked Sky Sports' Gary Neville. Both Aguero and Kompany – and those celebrations – have since been committed to steel structures outside the Etihad Stadium.

The City hero was perhaps not quite so clear-cut in 2013-14, when Liverpool's collapse took centre stage, but Yaya Toure's 20 goals from midfield kept his side in touch. While City spent only 15 days of the season at the summit, the win that put them there in the final week perhaps provided the defining image of the champions' campaign, as Toure charged through the Aston Villa defence to score a goal that BBC Sport's Alan Shearer considered "like watching a 15-year-old against under-12s".

Three City legends have had seasons to call their own. Kevin De Bruyne, until now, had not.

De Bruyne was the PFA Players' Player of the Year in consecutive years, but the 2019-20 campaign in which he equalled Thierry Henry's 20-assist, single-season record ended with Liverpool on top. The 2020-21 season played out largely without fans and ultimately without a serious challenge to City, robbing their leading man of his platform.

Consistent excellence had for so long characterised the midfielder's career rather than any particular peak.

Now, however, after the decisive assist in another dramatic fightback against Villa on Sunday, 2021-22 might be remembered as the De Bruyne season – a most unexpected conclusion given how the campaign started, as perhaps his worst in a City shirt.

'Difficult physically and mentally'

The player of the year he may have been, but De Bruyne's 2020-21 season did not finish in the manner he would have wished.

The former Chelsea man lasted only an hour of City's Champions League final defeat to the Blues last May, suffering facial fractures that impacted his preparation for Euro 2020. De Bruyne found form again at the finals, only to hobble out of Belgium's last-16 win over Portugal with an ankle issue.

Although De Bruyne played in the next round, as Belgium lost to Italy, he continued to be hampered by the injury at the start of this season, appearing in City's Premier League opener but then not again for almost four weeks.

"It's been a bit difficult physically and mentally," the 30-year-old told the MIDMID podcast in November, revealing he had played through "some serious pain".

"It's going to be a little more difficult this year than usual," De Bruyne suggested, and that seemed a fair prediction.

The City superstar, who also missed time with COVID-19, made his 10th league appearance of the season in a 1-0 home win over Wolves on December 11. At that stage, he had scored only twice in the competition and failed to provide a single assist – averaging a goal involvement every 246 minutes.

The only comparable De Bruyne season in a City shirt was in 2018-19, when two knee ligament injuries meant his 10th league appearance did not come until early February. Over 465 minutes up to that point, he scored once.

That is the sole other example of De Bruyne not contributing an assist through his first 10 league outings in a season for City; in fact, he had tallied at least four assists and six goal involvements by that point in each of his other five campaigns prior to 2021-22.

A week before De Bruyne's podcast appearance last year, Belgium coach Roberto Martinez was also asked to address his star man's form, acknowledging the "scrutiny" he faced while underperforming in a team as talented as City's.

"I'm not worried at all," Martinez said. "We feel that his best football is coming back."

De Bruyne added: "I just needed more time than expected."

'Now he scores a lot'

De Bruyne's 11th game of this campaign was very different. In a 7-0 City win over Leeds United, the team's talisman doubled his seasonal tally by scoring twice, including a thunderous 25-yard drive for his second.

"For the whole team, it's a booster," De Bruyne told NBC Sports – although that surely applied more to the two-goal star than his team-mates, with City moving four points clear at the top of the table with the victory.

"There's been a lot happening this year, a little bit out of my control, so the only thing I can do is try to work hard and come back as quick as possible," he said.

It was clearly a turning point for De Bruyne, who scored 13 goals and provided eight assists in 20 matches from the Leeds game until the end of the season. A goal involvement every 82 minutes over this period just beats his single-season best from 2019-20 (85 minutes per goal involvement).

Yet De Bruyne's role has altered in the past two years. He did not match his outstanding 33 goal involvements from the year Liverpool won the title, but 15 goals represent a career high.

The reason for that change perhaps has more to do with De Bruyne's City team-mates than the player himself.

In 2019-20, six of De Bruyne's 20 assists were for record goalscorer Aguero – more than for any other player. Of course, Aguero has since departed.

The retired striker was City's leading marksman in six of his 10 league campaigns in Manchester, including each of his first four playing alongside De Bruyne.

With Aguero gone and Erling Haaland not arriving until next term, City needed someone to fill the void in front of goal. De Bruyne, whether used in midfield or attack, has done that in the second half of the season.

Despite the slow start, City's top scorer has scored with 19.2 per cent of his shots in 2021-22; his previous high, in his debut 2015-16 season, saw a shot conversion rate of 14.3 per cent.

"I like it a lot," Pep Guardiola said in April after De Bruyne had netted four in four games – including two against Manchester United and one against Liverpool.

"He is not just a player to make assists – now he scores a lot of goals. I've said to him many times, 'I know you enjoy making a lot of assists, for you and your team-mates, but you have to score goals to reach another stage'. Now he is doing that, a lot of goals and chances."

'We have to move on'

De Bruyne either scored or assisted in 14 of those 20 games in the run-in, but he saved his best performances for when it mattered most – at least in the league.

There were suspicions City's season might fall apart when Real Madrid's remarkable semi-final recovery eliminated Guardiola's side from the Champions League at the start of May. With Liverpool in hot pursuit in the Premier League, the leaders were afforded little time to regroup as they headed straight into matches against Newcastle United at home and Wolves away.

"We are going to play against Newcastle thinking about [the Madrid defeat], for sure," said Guardiola in an enthralling news conference, revealing two days before the Newcastle match: "We didn't speak. No words can help what all of us feel. It's just a question of time."

Time, and Tottenham drawing at Liverpool, as it turned out.

A rare slip-up at Anfield on the eve of City's game against Newcastle eased the pressure on the champions. Then De Bruyne got to work.

Briefly restored to his 2019-20 vintage, De Bruyne attempted only a single shot at the Etihad but created six chances in a 5-0 win – his most in a single game this season – including an assist for Rodri's goal.

That performance prompted Jamie Carragher in the Sky Sports studio to declare De Bruyne "the greatest player to ever play for Manchester City", "the best midfield player in the world right now" and "the best player in the Premier League for the past three or four years".

Yet better was still to come at Wolves, where City became the first team in English top-flight history to win five consecutive league games by a margin of at least three goals. De Bruyne alone outscored Wolves by three, netting four in a 5-1 victory.

The first hat-trick of his City career was completed inside 24 minutes – the third-fastest in Premier League history – to blow away a Wolves team who had briefly threatened to cause their visitors some problems.

"It should have been five, to be honest," De Bruyne told Sky Sports, before conversation turned back to the Madrid match.

"It's very difficult to explain because it was just a mad five minutes," he said. "It's not that we played bad or something, it was just five minutes that you can't explain as a player. I don't know what happened. I was out of control on the bench anyway, so you feel a little bit in shock. It's not nice and the feeling is still not nice.

"But you need to move on. We're trying now to win the title and whatever happened unfortunately happened. We have to move on."

The Wolves display would have been fresh in Carragher's mind on Monday when he named De Bruyne his personal player of the season. The Premier League award followed ahead of the crucial final-day assist for Ilkay Gundogan, although other individual end-of-season honours may evade De Bruyne. Many are voted on well in advance of the final weeks of the campaign – before De Bruyne had done his best work.

Mohamed Salah is the FWA Footballer of the Year and may also be recognised by the PFA; he scored four goals in his final 11 games – as many as De Bruyne managed on one night in Wolverhampton.

A Premier League title, defined by his clutch performances, is not a bad consolation.

Ilkay Gundogan was left speechless as Manchester City produced an astonishing comeback to clinch the Premier League title with a dramatic 3-2 victory over Aston Villa.

A point clear of rivals Liverpool heading into the final day of the season, Pep Guardiola's side trailed 2-0 heading into the last quarter of an hour at the Etihad Stadium as goals from Matty Cash and Philippe Coutinho put  Villa boss Steven Gerrard on course to hand the title to former club Liverpool, who beat Wolves 3-1 at Anfield.

However, City demonstrated their champion characteristics in an emphatic manner, turning the match on its head with three goals in the space of five minutes.

Gundogan pulled one back by heading in Raheem Sterling's cross, while Rodri's low drive just two minutes later squared the contest.

And the most remarkable of turnarounds was completed within a further three minutes, as Gundogan arrived at the far post to apply the finishing touch to Kevin De Bruyne's inviting cross and spark jubilant celebrations from the Etihad Stadium crowd.

The midfielder saluted his team-mates as they subsequently held on to seal their fourth Premier League title in the space of five seasons, while also paying tribute to runners-up Liverpool, who finished a point behind the Citizens.

"It was an unbelievable game, I don't know what to say, it's fantastic," he told Sky Sports.

"Honestly, I think we are all human beings and, after going 2-0 down, the chances were very small. But we had to do the simple things, and obviously scoring those two quick goals gave us 10 minutes to score the third one. We're proud of ourselves today.

"We felt the tension. It was a negative tension more than a positive one when we were 2-0 down, but it was about getting a goal, and we knew we could score more if we got the first.

"These are the days you look back on. It was an unbelievable day.

"If Liverpool didn't play the incredible football they've been playing, I don't think this league would have been that attractive.

"We pushed each other to the limits and even though it's a sad day for them, we need to appreciate what they've done, and we look forward to competing with them again next season."

Manchester City have been crowned Premier League champions for the fourth time in five seasons, seeing off a spirited challenge from Liverpool.

Pep Guardiola's men may not have won as many trophies as they would have liked this season, but they have been exceptional in defence of their league title in the face of stiff competition.

If City were not already intimidating enough, they will be adding one of the best strikers in world football to their ranks next season in the shape of Erling Haaland.

The lethal Norwegian will surely come in and plunder plenty of goals, just as he has in the Bundesliga at Borussia Dortmund before his £51million (€60m) move to the Etihad Stadium.

However, will his arrival realistically improve them all that much, or more to the point, can it?

That may sound like a ridiculous question, but looking at City's output this season, they have left themselves with very little room for improvement such are the levels they have consistently reached.

Stats Perform has broken down the numbers to try to predict just what kind of impact the impressive 21-year-old is likely to make in Manchester next season.

What Man City need

It has been a popular opinion that City have achieved what they have in the league in spite of not having a traditional striker.

Since Sergio Aguero left at the end of last season, Guardiola has mostly gone with any three of Jack Grealish, Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus in attack.

They did spend a lot of time ahead of this season trying to lure Harry Kane from Tottenham, but failing to do so has arguably allowed them to find another way to break down opposition teams. 

Playing without a striker, City have still clinched the league title while collecting 93 points, the third-biggest total they have ever achieved, and scored 99 goals.

By not having an obvious focal point, it has been tricky for the opposition to know who is supposed to be on the end of attacks, and given none of those mentioned has scored more than 11 non-penalty goals in the league, that seems to have been the plan all along.

The perception might be that Guardiola's team have become less direct without a striker, and while that was true last season when Aguero played just 12 league games (seven starts) and they averaged a shot every 42.82 passes, and a goal every 309.05 passes, that came down to a shot every 36.63 passes this season, and a goal every 263.85.

Given Aguero's injury issues in his final campaign at City, you could argue the last time they regularly played with a striker was the 2019-20 season, which was the last time they did not win the league and collected only 81 points.

Since Guardiola arrived at the Etihad until the end of that season, his team averaged a shot every 38.10 passes, and a goal every 271.16, so they have possibly become more direct this term than they were with Aguero in the team.

By comparison, you may assume Haaland has been playing for a more direct team in Marco Rose's Dortmund, and this season in the Bundesliga, BVB scored once every 230.95 passes.

However, they actually only took a shot at goal once every 43.34 passes, so if anything it seems City are more direct than Dortmund, or maybe German teams are simply better organised defensively to stop shots.

 

What Haaland can bring

When you think of Haaland, you think of those direct and explosive runs into the penalty area, usually followed by emphatic finishes. When you think of City, you, erm, don't.

His addition could mean a change in style for the English champions, and the thought of Haaland getting on the end of the ridiculous range of passing from Kevin De Bruyne does indeed make the mouth water.

Do City as a team generally produce more with an orthodox striker, though?

Their record with and without Aguero makes for interesting reading. In the Premier League, the Argentine made 125 appearances under Guardiola, while City played 65 games without him.

In that time, they actually had a win percentage of 72.0 with him and 76.9 without, and even had a slightly better goal average (2.4 goals per game with, 2.5 without).

It is almost just as interesting to see Dortmund's record with and without Haaland. Since signing for the German club in January 2020, he has played 67 games, with Dortmund winning 65.7 per cent and averaging 2.4 goals for. Without him, they won just 61.1 per cent, though averaging only a slightly fewer 2.2 goals for.

It is questionable therefore whether the addition of Haaland will actually generate many if any more wins than they currently enjoy, but will he suit the way City play and can he add to their already impressive haul of goals?

Despite scoring more than any other team in the Premier League this season, no side missed more big chances (a chance from which a goal would normally be expected) than City's 65, though only Liverpool (97) created more than their 87.

City finished fifth in the league for big chance conversion (46.72), and so they will be hoping that part of what Haaland will bring them is putting more of those opportunities away.

In terms of finishing off big chances in the Bundesliga, nobody who scored at least five goals could match Haaland's incredible rate of 78.26 per cent, with even Bayern Munich great Robert Lewandowski only managing 46.67 per cent.

It must be noted though that Haaland's big chance conversion went down to 42.86 per cent in the Champions League, which is probably where City will hope he can make the biggest difference.

 

The league has not been their issue this season, though, rather the big games in cup competitions.

Their defeat to Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley was relatively convincing, despite the 3-2 scoreline. With an xG (expected goals) of 1.75, it was more their leakiness at the other end that was their undoing, going in 3-0 down at half-time.

However, it is the Champions League where their biggest letdown occurred, despite what City fans will tell you about their apparent disdain for the competition.

Heading into injury time at the Santiago Bernabeu, City were 5-3 up on aggregate, only to somehow concede twice in two minutes, before a Karim Benzema penalty put them out at the semi-final stage.

Perhaps Haaland could have made a difference, particularly in that second leg where City slightly underperformed their xG of 1.37, though they did score four in the first leg off an xG of 2.70.

Again, you could argue it was more the defence that let them down, somehow conceding six goals despite largely dominating both legs, but in those key moments where City missed golden opportunities, you would think Haaland would have had more ice in his veins.

Match made in heaven?

How could one of the deadliest strikers in Europe not be a good signing? Haaland will almost certainly be a fan favourite and score plenty of goals in the sky blue of his father's former team.

In the league, it seems likelier he will more or less replace the goals of others rather than add to what they are already producing. It would be surprising to see the likes of Sterling, Mahrez, Foden and even De Bruyne score as many as they have this season if Haaland is already banging them in.

However, those fine margins in the cups could well be where he comes into his own, with Haaland either scoring important goals himself, or distracting defenders so that others can do the honours.

It will be interesting to see how City play with a striker, as it of course will mean they line up with one fewer attacking midfielder and will they therefore be able to dominate quite as much as they currently do?

Either way, it is difficult to see how they can do anything other than continue to be dominant with the big Norwegian around as Premier League defenders await what promises to be a busy season from August onwards.

Burnley were relegated from the Premier League after Leeds United dramatically defeated Brentford to leapfrog the Clarets, who fell to a 2-1 loss to Newcastle United on the final day.

Leeds headed into Sunday needing to better Burnley's result due to an inferior goal difference and they were celebrating as news filtered through of Callum Wilson's first-half penalty for Newcastle.

Raphinha converted from the penalty spot at Brentford in the second half to further aid Leeds' cause, with Wilson doubling Newcastle's lead on the hour at Turf Moor after a pass from Allan Saint-Maximin.

However, Maxwel Cornet reduced the deficit for Burnley when he finished past Martin Dubravka and matters worsened significantly for Leeds when substitute Sergi Canos headed to level for Brentford.

But Canos was cautioned for celebrating by taking his shirt off and then dismissed soon after for a foul on Raphinha, with Brentford reduced to nine men after making all their substitutes when they lost Kristoffer Ajer to injury.

And Jack Harrison confirmed Leeds' Premier League status for next season as he smashed in after 94 minutes. It was the Whites' fourth stoppage-time winner in the Premier League, no team this season has scored more.

It meant Leeds became the first side since Wigan in the 2010-11 Premier League season to head into the final day in the bottom three and survive, as Burnley join Norwich City and Watford in the Championship next term.

Manchester City are Premier League champions for a fourth time in five seasons, and a sixth time overall, after beating Aston Villa 3-2 in remarkable fashion on Sunday to hold off Liverpool.

City are now in front of Chelsea (five titles) as the competition's outright second most successful side and behind only Manchester United, who have lifted the title 13 times.

Indeed, only United (20), Liverpool (19), Arsenal (13) and Everton (nine) have won more titles in the history of the English top flight, dating back to 1888, than eight-time winners City.

The Citizens' latest title triumph was built on a solid defence and a potent attack, with no team in the division scoring more goals (99) or conceding fewer (26).

With the aid of Opta, Stats Perform looks at some of the other numbers behind City's successful title defence.

PEP PREVAILS ONCE MORE

City have won four of the past five Premier League titles, which is a level of dominance not seen in the competition since United lifted the trophy in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011.

Pep Guardiola has been at the helm for those four most recent triumphs, making him the fourth coach in English top-flight history to win four titles over a five-season period.

He is in quite some company, too, with Alex Ferguson (United), Bob Paisley (Liverpool) and George Ramsey (Villa) the other names on that list. 

The Catalan is only the eighth man to win as many as four English top-flight titles, while only Ferguson (13) has ever lifted the Premier League more times.

Following equally successful stints with Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Guardiola has now won the title in 10 of his 13 seasons as a top-flight manager.

To put that into some context, Massimiliano Allegri (6) is the sole other coach to have won more than five league crowns in that period across Europe's top five leagues.

CATCH US IF YOU CAN

City may have been pushed all the way in the end, but they spent 168 days at the summit – 98 more than any other team, and 157 more than valiant runners-up Liverpool.

The 2021-22 campaign did not get off to the best of starts for City, though, as they lost 1-0 at Tottenham on the opening weekend, with that one of only three losses all season.

That makes the Citizens only the fourth side in the Premier League era to lose their opening match yet still go on to win the title, and the 15th overall in English top-flight history.

CITY FALL JUST SHORT OF OWN RECORD

City had to do it the hard way. They were 2-0 down to Villa and matters looked bleak, but Ilkay Gundogan inspired a comeback for the ages.

It means City end the season with a positive goal difference of 73.

That is the second-highest goal difference in Premier League history, behind only their own mark of +79 in 2017-18 when scoring a record 106 goals and conceding 27.

The 26 goals conceded by City this term is an impressive return, though it is well short of the 15 let in by Chelsea in 2004-05.

GOALS GALORE

City may not have had a player who seriously challenged for the Golden Boot award, but the workload was shared with 16 different players registering a goal.

Set-pieces proved an important source of goals for the champions, who netted 22 times from corners and free-kicks, while conceding just once in this manner.

Their positive differential of 21 goals between set-piece goals scored and conceded is the largest on record in the Premier League since such data was first collected in 2008-09.

Manchester City pulled off a stunning fightback to beat Aston Villa 3-2 and snatch the Premier League title as Pep Guardiola's side did it the hard way.

You could not script this drama and be taken seriously. Chasing a fourth title in five seasons, City knew victory would secure that, yet Steven Gerrard had Villa well organised and the hosts struggled to find their usual fluency.

Matty Cash's 37th-minute opener stunned the hosts, and former Liverpool forward Philippe Coutinho left City devastated when he lashed Villa two goals clear in the 69th minute.

But Ilkay Gundogan's header and Rodri's low strike dramatically hauled the hosts level with two goals in three minutes, before super-sub Gundogan slammed home City's third nine minutes from time, scotching Liverpool's title hopes.

It was shaping up from the early stages to be 90 minutes of City attack versus Villa defence and countering, with the hosts having had a shade under 75 per cent of possession in the first quarter. Phil Foden rolled a shot six inches wide, via a slight deflection, and Gabriel Jesus wasted a decent opening.

Villa found the breakthrough when their full-backs combined, Lucas Digne crossing from the left for Cash to head in from eight yards as Joao Cancelo failed to prevent the Poland international attacking the ball at the far post.

Ollie Watkins dithered as another great chance came Villa's way, John Stones dashing back to jostle the striker off the ball.

Jesus missed a glorious opportunity five minutes into the second half when he stabbed over from close range. The Brazilian had another shot charged down, while at the other end Watkins was denied by Ederson's sprawling save after brushing off Aymeric Laporte's challenge.

City were in deep trouble when Coutinho fired Villa two ahead in the 69th minute, fastening on to a flick-on from Watkins and rifling low into the left corner.

Gundogan gave the hosts hope when he headed fellow substitute Raheem Sterling's cross past Robin Olsen in the 76th minute, and then Rodri lashed in from the edge of the box.

Guardiola was leaping around on the touchline, the crowd anticipating a winner, just as when Sergio Aguero's late dramatics delivered the title in 2012, and it came when De Bruyne's delicious ball across goal from the right was met by Gundogan. He could hardly miss. City, from the depths of despair, are champions once more.

Liverpool were denied the Premier League title and an unprecedented quadruple on the final day of the season, despite coming from behind to beat Wolves 3-1 at Anfield.

Jurgen Klopp's men trailed to an early Pedro Neto goal, before Sadio Mane equalised, with Mohamed Salah and Andrew Robertson belatedly scoring to seal three points.

With Manchester City trailing Aston Villa 2-0 while Wolves were holding Liverpool, there was hope among the home fans, but that was soon extinguished as Pep Guardiola's City came back to win 3-2 and clinch the title.

This was a disappointing blow for the Reds, although they can still win their third trophy of the season on Saturday when they face Real Madrid in the Champions League final in Paris.

Chelsea finished their Premier League campaign with an unexpectedly dramatic 2-1 win over relegated Watford.

Already secure of third place having long since seen any chance of a title challenge fade, Chelsea had little to play for on the final day.

Kai Havertz, who on another day would have had a hat-trick, gave Chelsea the lead with his 11th-minute effort.

Dan Gosling's late header looked to have earned Watford an unlikely point, only for Ross Barkley to respond in kind in the 91st minute to secure the points.

 

Manchester United will be playing Europa League football next season despite Wilfried Zaha scoring in a 1-0 win for Crystal Palace over the Red Devils in the Premier League.

Incoming United boss Erik ten Hag was in attendance at Selhurst Park as Zaha punished a languid first-half showing by Ralf Rangnick's side to put Palace in front.

United, without the injured Cristiano Ronaldo, could not find a breakthrough in the second half as they fell to a sixth straight away league defeat.

However, West Ham were defeated by Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday, which kept United in sixth despite the Red Devils finishing the term with a club record-low Premier League points tally.

Edinson Cavani, playing in his final game for United, almost wrongfooted Vicente Guaita with a volley after 14 minutes, but the Spaniard readjusted to parry away.

David de Gea showed quick reflexes to thwart low drives from Zaha and Jeffrey Schlupp, but the United goalkeeper had no response shortly after when the Ivory Coast international drilled into the bottom-left corner.

Bruno Fernandes tamely curled a free-kick into Guaita's hands after the interval, while Conor Gallagher dragged a presentable opportunity wide at the other end.

Anthony Elanga sliced wide from Juan Mata's cutback as United searched for a late equaliser, although a belated offside flag against the Spaniard spared the Sweden international's blushes.

United continued pressing forward but Palace held firm for a fifth consecutive top-flight home clean sheet for just the second time in history.

Son Heung-min scored twice as Tottenham sealed their place in next season's Champions League with a thumping 5-0 win over Norwich City.

Antonio Conte's side went into the game knowing a draw would be enough to secure fourth spot given their far superior goal difference over fifth-placed Arsenal, but nothing less than a win looked likely after Dejan Kulusevski's early opener.

Spurs continued to dominate at Carrow Road after that and Harry Kane added a second before half-time following a howler from Tim Krul.

The impressive Kulusevski grabbed his second midway through the second half, before Son - who was chasing the golden boot - scored two excellent goals to move onto 23 goals in the top flight this season.

Kulusevski gave Spurs a deserved lead in the 16th minute, the Sweden international stroking in via a deflection off Jacob Lungi Sorensen after being teed up by Rodrigo Bentancur.

Spurs doubled their advantage in the 32nd minute when Kane headed in from eight yards from Bentancur's first-time cross following a dismal kick out by Krul.

The Norwich goalkeeper twice denied Son after the break, before Kulusevski saw a tame effort cleared off the line after he had rounded Krul. 

The on-loan Juventus forward was not to be denied in the 64th minute, though, as he whipped into Krul's top-right corner from 15 yards. 

Son stroked into Krul's bottom-left corner from Lucas Moura's clever pass in the 70th minute to make it four, with the South Korea international then curling in from 25 yards five minutes later to add further gloss to the scoreline. 

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