MANCHESTER, England — Manchester City celebrated their Premier League title on Sunday with a comfortable 1-0 win over Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium.
With the trophy already in the bag thanks to Arsenal’s 1-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest on Saturday, Pep Guardiola took the opportunity to rest a number of his stars but an early goal from Julian Alvarez was still enough to win the game.
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City fans, who raced onto the pitch at the final whistle, spent most of the day celebrating their fifth title in the past six years, but Guardiola can’t allow much time for celebration. The City manager will now look to refocus his players as they go in search of the FA Cup and Champions League, hoping to complete what would be a historic treble.
1. Alvarez shows the strength of champions City
There are plenty of reasons why City have won the title this season, but among them is Alvarez. The striker, picked up from River Plate for less than £15 million last January, has had to be Erling Haaland’s support act for most of his first year in England, but he has still chipped in 18 goals, including one here against Chelsea.
The 23-year-old was one of Argentina’s best players at the World Cup — scoring twice in the semifinal against Croatia — and would walk into most other teams in the world. At City, he has had to be patient and make the most of any opportunities that have come his way. He was on the pitch for only a matter of minutes against Real Madrid on Wednesday, but still scored the fourth goal to put the icing on an irresistible team performance.
However it ends, Alvarez is unlikely to forget the 2022-23 season in a hurry. In December, he became a world champion alongside Lionel Messi in Qatar, and he has already added a Premier League winners’ medal to his trophy cabinet. He could yet end the campaign with the FA Cup and Champions League as well, turning City’s potential treble into his own personal club/country quadruple.
2. Guardiola looking ahead to two cup finals
This probably wasn’t the team Guardiola planned to pick when he thought victory over Chelsea would seal the title, but Arsenal’s defeat to Nottingham Forest on Saturday night meant he could get a head start ahead of trips to Wembley and Istanbul.
He made nine changes from the XI that demolished Real Madrid on Wednesday in the Champions League, with only Kyle Walker and Manuel Akanji keeping their places. Kalvin Phillips was handed his first Premier League start since playing for Leeds United against Brentford a year ago, while goalkeeper Stefan Ortega, defender Sergio Gomez and forward Cole Palmer were also drafted in. Guardiola said the changes were to reward his squad players with minutes “they deserve,” but it’s hard to imagine he hasn’t already got an eye on the FA Cup final against Manchester United and Champions League final against Inter.
It will be interesting to see how Guardiola manages his squad for the next two weeks before facing United at Wembley on June 3. He won’t want to risk Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland in the next two league games against Brighton and Brentford, but he also won’t want key players to lose their rhythm before two crucial games.
It will be a balancing act between giving his first team just enough minutes, but not too many, in order to be ready for the challenges ahead. Not a bad problem to have.
3. Pochettino’s task laid out at the Etihad
It looks likely that Mauricio Pochettino will be the man charged with rebuilding Chelsea and he needs to find something of a quick fix. He will inherit a team on course to finish in the bottom half of the Premier League table for the first time since 1996 and immediately be expected to challenge for a top-four finish — at least.
Chelsea have scored only 36 league goals this season — fewer than Leeds and Leicester — and Pochettino will need a striker, whether that’s Romelu Lukaku or someone else. But aside from just throwing new players into an already bloated squad, he will also have to repair the morale in the dressing room after what has been a humiliating season.
Giving City’s B-team a guard of honour before the game will have stung, but so will losing the game on a day when Guardiola clearly had one eye on the FA Cup and Champions League finals. Chelsea are among the group of teams Guardiola considers genuine rivals in the Premier League, but on this evidence the gap between the two clubs is huge. It is turning into a sorry end to a sorry season and Pochettino has a big job on his hands.
Best and worst performers
Julian Alvarez, FW, Man City: Took his goal well with a precise finish and had a second goal ruled out by VAR.
Kalvin Phillips, MF, Man City: It has been a frustrating season on the sidelines but he looked assured in place of Rodri in the centre of midfield.
Stefan Ortega, GK, Man City: The stand-in goalkeeper made two good saves, first from Raheem Sterling and then a Conor Gallagher header.
Wesley Fofana, DF, Chelsea: Played an awful, aimless pass into midfield that allowed City to score through Alvarez.
Kai Havertz, FW, Chelsea: Lucky he only got a yellow card for a horror tackle on Phillips in the first half.
Cesar Azpilicueta, DF, Chelsea: The full-back looked very old chasing Palmer, Alvarez and Phil Foden around the pitch.
Highlights and notable moments
City got the day started in the best possible way, receiving a traditional guard of honor from their opponents as recognition of being league champions.
Alvarez has made the most of his minutes this season and Sunday’s well-taken goal was no exception.
After the match: What the managers and players said
“It was a great feeling. I was happy because we won the league and I knew there might be a chance I could play. I have enjoyed every moment.
“It has been unbelievably tough this season and probably the lowest point confidence-wise in my career, but Kyle Walker and the guys have kept me going and told me I would get my chance. I have tried to be as fit as possible and whenever I get the chance, I try to do my best.” — Manchester City midfielder Kalvin Phillips to Sky Sports
“We always believed we could do this. This group of lads are professionals and winners. Rest assured we are not finished. We have the FA Cup against our bitter rivals and then the Champions League. We will celebrate tonight and then move on to try and create history.
“The treble would be fantastic but there is a lot of football to be played. To say we are up there with one of the greatest Premier League teams of all time, we have to conquer some of that. To go and achieve that, we could then start talking about being one of the greatest teams in the Premier League.” — Manchester City defender Kyle Walker to Sky Sports
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
– Manchester City is unbeaten in their past 44 Premier League matches in which they led at half-time. They last lost when leading at half-time to Chelsea on May 8, 2021 (led 1-0 at half-time, lost 2-1).
– City won 41 out of the past 44 matches they led at half-time.
– This is Manchester City’s sixth straight win vs Chelsea (all competitions), and they’ve outscored Chelsea 10-0 during the streak.
Manchester City: Guardiola’s side will finish out the Premier League season with two games in the next seven days, visiting Brighton (Wednesday) and then Brentford (May 28).
Chelsea: The Blues also have two league fixtures remaining this week, visiting Man United on Thursday in a game with top-four implications (for United, anyway) before ending the 2022-23 campaign vs. Newcastle on May 28.
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