Everybody Loves Pellegrini
Everybody Loves Pellegrini
Goals No101 and 102 of an utterly convincing Manchester City campaign delivered a second title in three seasons with a minimum of drama. Sky might have been disappointed that their split-screen routine was not really necessary this time, Greg Dyke must have been depressed at James Milner being left on the bench to leave Joe Hart as the only England-qualified player in the new champions' starting line-up, but no one at the Etihad was complaining.
City under Manuel Pellegrini are now capable of taking events in their stride, winning major trophies without putting their supporters through an emotional wringer in stoppage time. Get over it. The events of two years ago are not destined to be replayed over and over again, much as the City fans enjoy the memories now incorporated into a mural running around the outside of the stadium. City are beginning to look like a team who could do this sort of thing most seasons, and at this rate the Etihad will soon be decorated with lists of achievements and photographs of winning teams rather than improbably close squeaks against 10-man Queens Park Rangers.
One could hardly object that the season has not produced enough drama already, without actually needing a final day intensifier, but the mundane fact of the matter is that Liverpool went to pieces in the end and not the team Brendan Rodgers was optimistically attempting to psych out.
The Liverpool manager's rather desperate claim that a good start by his own players might put City under pressure should West Ham hold out until half-time was worthy of a Sir Alex Ferguson prize for exploring every possible psychological avenue, but events did not quite work out that way and it was Anfield that suffered the first wobble.
At 3.20pm with the game at the Etihad still scoreless, all four sides of the ground rose as one for a joyous chorus of "We're not really here", which is the quaint way supporters in these parts have of celebrating. News had just filtered through that Newcastle had taken the lead against Liverpool, at which point it appeared this most enthralling of title races might finally be decided by something as commonplace and prosaic as a Martin Skrtel own goal.
That scoreline was always unlikely to last, yet against defensive though not terribly determined opponents City knew they had time on their side in which to secure a result that would put Liverpool out of the equation. West Ham were not as tight at the back or as well-organised as Aston Villa, who made City wait for over an hour to take the lead in midweek.
For perhaps half an hour City played exactly as they had done in that game, carefully moving the ball around the visitors' penalty area and diligently looking for the short pass that would set up a clear opening, though patience has its limits and six minutes before the interval Samir Nasri decided a different approach might work. Receiving the ball from Yaya Touré, he did not look for David Silva or Sergio Agüero as he had been doing for most of the afternoon, he looked up instead and took a crack from outside the area that went in off Adrián's post.
City never looked back after that. By the time Vincent Kompany doubled the lead with a simple goal from close range early in the second half the party had already started and fans on all four sides of the ground were doing the Poznan dance. That was quite a sight, it must be admitted, as were all the scarves held aloft during a rendition of Blue Moon, even if the pitch invasion at the final whistle was a bit old school.
Not all the City players were expecting that, indeed, most of the stewards appeared to be taken by surprise, and some players were not quick enough to leave the pitch.
If City keep winning, they will soon get the hang of gravitating towards the tunnel in the final seconds of the final game like all the serial champions of old.
So that is a first title in Europe for Pellegrini, who wisely sent on defence-minded reinforcements in Fernandinho and Milner in the second half instead of attempting a grandstand finish when the match was already won, and a rather more impressive trophy than the Capital One Cup to mark the end of his first season in England.
Those complaining that City have hardly led the Premier League for any length of time this season are missing the point that success in one competition impacted on the other. Partly because of the Capital One Cup final, and partly because of the weather in February, City found themselves a couple of games behind everyone else and were always playing catch-up.
That does not diminish their achievement, although it may have played a cruel trick on Liverpool. "It has been a very strange season because of being two or three games behind everyone else," Pellegrini said. "We were able to go into the last game as leaders because finally we had managed to play the same amount of games as everyone else."