Manchester City’s team buses were serenaded into their stadium with chants of “Champions” in a haze of blue smoke created by fans.
They were way off the mark. There was still a game to be won, despite the fact that it was closed to the public due to the pandemic.
Chelsea came from behind to win 2-1 on Saturday, dethroning Liverpool and preventing City from winning their third English title in four seasons.
With three games remaining in the Premier League, City’s time will undoubtedly come. If Manchester United, which is 13 points behind its rival, loses at Aston Villa on Sunday, the celebrations could start even earlier.
After seeing his quadruple bid ended by an FA Cup semifinal defeat three weeks ago, City manager Pep Guardiola has grown accustomed to losing to Chelsea. Just three weeks remain before they clash once more on club football’s biggest stage: the Champions League final.
“We can learn from this and move on,” Guardiola said. “We have another three chances to be champions.”
What a difference it might have made if Sergio Aguero hadn’t gently chipped a “Panenka” penalty down the middle, which Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy saved in first-half stoppage time after Gabriel Jesus was brought down by Billy Gilmour.
After Raheem Sterling swept in the opener in the 44th minute, it was a chance to double the lead.
Andreas Christensen dropped after failing to close down a long ball, and Gabriel Jesus nipped in to take over. Before Sterling applied the finishing touch, the ball was squared around the penalty area, which Aguero couldn’t control to shoot.
With two minutes remaining in normal time, Chelsea appeared to have conceded another penalty when Sterling appeared to be clipped by Kurt Zouma and the two collided. Despite howls of indignation and requests for the referee to personally witness the incident, no spot kick was awarded.
How costly it turned out to be for the city. Timo Werner cut the ball back for Marcos Alonso to dispatch into the net in stoppage time, securing Chelsea’s third-place finish.
After all, winning the Champions League may not be enough to ensure Chelsea’s return next season. When Thomas Tuchel was hired in January, the team was five points out of fourth position.
SETBACK FOR TOTTENHAM
Tottenham were knocked out of the Champions League for the second consecutive season after losing to Leeds two years to the day after reaching the final of Europe’s top competition.
Tottenham’s 3-1 loss to Leeds on Saturday dropped them to fifth place with three games remaining, despite having played one more game than Chelsea.
Son Heung-min cancelled out Stuart Dallas’ early opener, but Patrick Bamford and Rodrigo sealed the victory. Leeds is in ninth position after going undefeated at home against the “Big Six” in its first season back in the Premier League after 16 years.
After defeating already-relegated Sheffield United 2-0, Crystal Palace will be in the Premier League for the eighth consecutive season. Christian Benteke scored after 67 seconds, and Eberechi Eze scored himself in the 88th minute.