Manchester City were confirmed as Premier League champions without kicking a ball on Sunday as rock bottom West Brom stunned Manchester United with a 1-0 win at Old Trafford.
United simply had to avoid defeat to keep the title race mathematically alive, but a late header from Jay Rodriguez gave West Brom a hugely surprising three points and finally gave their fans something to cheer this season.
More importantly, though, it means Pep Guardiola’s City team cannot now be caught at the top of the table, thus handing the Catalan coach his first Premier League crown in just his second year in English football.
Realistically it was always a matter of when and not if City would become English champions for a fifth time following a dominant season from the blue half of Manchester.
But, just a week after spoiling City’s title party by beating their local rivals 3-2 at the Etihad, the way United abjectly gifted the title to their neighbours will sting.
United’s comeback at the Etihad from a 2-0 half-time deficit offered their supporters a rare fillip of flair and excitement after a difficult season where their style of play has hardly endeared Jose Mourinho to the club’s fanbase.
And that was also the case on Sunday, as United failed to spark the imagination in any tangible way even though they were playing a side that had hadn’t won in the league since January.
West Brom sacked manager Alan Pardew at the start of April after just four months following one win in his 18 matches in charge, but even a famous win at Old Trafford may be too little, too late for the Baggies as they still lie nine points off safety with just four games remaining.
United dominated possession early on, but despite the efforts of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez, precious little real impact was made by the home side.
Lukaku saw one shot cannon back off the face of West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster, while Pogba’s desire to make a difference saw him booked after half an hour for attempting to steer the ball into the net with a very obvious, very deliberate handball.
Prompted by the abject nature of the opening 45 minutes, Mourinho brought on Jesse Lingard at half-time and he was immediately in the heart of the action as United attempted to wake from their slumber.
West Brom, to their credit, also kept probing forward but they lacked the class required to really open United up at the back.
Mourinho attempted to end the stalemate – and the tedium – by introducing Anthony Martial with half an hour remaining and his introduction undoubtedly lifted the quiet Old Trafford atmosphere.
Increasingly poor conditions and a general lack of thrust continued to inhibit both sides, but United did force Foster into wonderfully save on 66 minutes when he tipped a Lukaku effort around the post.
However, the plucky visitors then sensationally seized their chance when Chris Brunt delivered a corner from the right with 17 minutes remaining. Nemanja Matic panicked at the delivery and headed back inside to Rodriguez, who could not miss from three yards out.
United, sensing the impact of the result, threw everything forward but West Brom displayed some new-found defensive fortitude and held on for a famous victory.
United will want to forget the result and its significance as quickly as they can.
However, the fans of West Brom — and certainly Manchester City — are likely to remember it for quite some time.
Despite blowing the chance to win the league against United last weekend, City still matched United’s record by claiming the title with five games to spare.
Much of the praise has gone to manager Pep Guardiola for moulding a side being compared to the greatest-ever teams to win the English top flight.
But backed by free-spending Abu Dhabi owners, Guardiola has had plenty of talent to work with.
AFP Sport looks at five of the key players in City’s title triumph.
Guardiola showed his ruthless streak after a disappointing first campaign in charge, snapping up goalkeeper Ederson for £35 million ($49 million) within three weeks of the end of the season.
Much of the blame for Guardiola’s first-season struggles was pinned on a series of errors from Claudio Bravo, brought from Barcelona to replace the ostracised Joe Hart.
In contrast to Bravo, Ederson has been solid when called upon to make saves. But, crucially, he is even better with his feet, which suits Guardiola’s style.
The Brazilian’s long-range passing to launch City on the counter-attack and beat any high press employed by opponents has been a regular feature of the season, adding another weapon to City’s frightening attacking arsenal.
Kevin De Bruyne
The man most often picked out by Guardiola himself as the heartbeat of this City side, Kevin De Bruyne looks set to battle with Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah for the Premier League player of the year awards.
The Belgian leads the league in assists but he offers far more than raw numbers.
“He is the best example and he helps us to be a better club, a better institution for the future,” Guardiola said after De Bruyne led a 4-1 destruction of Tottenham Hotspur in November.
If De Bruyne doesn’t get you, David Silva likely will. Having two natural playmakers in the same midfield has made City almost impossible to stop in the same way Guardiola harnessed the brilliant best from Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta in a glorious four-year spell at Barcelona from 2008 to 2012.
“I think David is also one of the best this season,” said De Bruyne.
“Since I came here he has been unbelievable. He helped my game in a lot of ways.”
Silva has also chipped in with his share of important goals — opening the scoring in the first Manchester derby of the season at Old Trafford.
His telling contribution is all the more outstanding given the Spaniard has had to spend a lot of time back in his homeland between games after the premature birth of his son in December.
The beneficial effects of Guardiola’s coaching are clear-cut in the case of Raheem Sterling as the 23-year-old has come of age this season to deliver on his abundant potential.
The England international is City’s second-highest scorer behind Sergio Aguero but his goals have also come at some key moments on their road to the title.
Guardiola’s men were on course to drop points in two of their opening three games until Sterling’s 97th-minute winner at Bournemouth back in August kicked off an 18-match winning run in the league.
That streak was kept alive as Sterling also struck late twice in three days in late November to edge out Huddersfield and Southampton 2-1 to demoralise the chasing pack.
In City’s mega-rich era, managers and players have come and gone but one constant has largely remained — Sergio Aguero’s goalscoring.
The Argentine, who joined the club in 2011, is now City’s all-time leading goalscorer and has enjoyed another bumper season.
Initially challenged for his place in the team by Gabriel Jesus when the Brazilian arrived last January, Aguero has reestablished himself as City’s number one striker.