BC-SOC--Man City Champion,3rd Ld-Writethru
BRIGHTON, England (AP) — All the strain Pep Guardiola feels during the pursuit of titles becomes worthwhile when a winners’ medal is placed around his neck.
It happens a lot.
Manchester City won its second straight Premier League trophy on Sunday, finishing one point ahead of Liverpool in a thrilling title race and giving Guardiola eight league championships over 10 years in three countries.
“We’re so, so tired, but at the same time winning the title gives you a lot of energy,” Guardiola said after the clinching 4-1 victory over Brighton, “and is so addictive.”
Winning has become routine for City in a way it never was before the flow of Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth began in 2008.
When Sheikh Mansour bought City, City’s only English championships in a history stretching back to 1880 were won in 1937 and 1968.
Now the club that was trampled over for so many years by Manchester United — and had to escape the third tier 20 years ago this month — is the force of English football with four titles in eight seasons. City finished first in 2012 under Roberto Mancini and ’14 led by Manuel Pellegrini, then under Guardiola became the first repeat champion in a decade since United.
Guardiola, who earned six league titles as a defensive midfielder for Barcelona in the 1990s, had hat tricks of league titles as coach at Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
“This is the toughest one,” Guardiola said, “especially (because) of the rival we had to face all season.”
Guardiola sets standards on the field that require rivals to raise theirs.
City trailed Liverpool by seven points in late December but won its final 14 games after a Jan. 29 defeat at Newcastle and finished with 98 points, the second-highest total in English history behind its 100 last year. Liverpool, chasing its first championship in 29 years, finished with the highest total for a non-champion.
“Liverpool was exceptional, I don’t mean to rub it in, it is what it is, they didn’t deserve to lose,” said 33-year-old City captain Vincent Kompany, who helped maintain the lead last week when his long-range goal in the second half provided a 1-0 win over Leicester. “It makes me so much more happy that we played such a great team all season.”
During a 21-minute stretch in the first half at Brighton, City gave hope to Liverpool supporters at Anfield, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) to the northwest.
With both grounds bathed in brilliant sunshine, Sadio Mane put Liverpool in front against Wolverhampton in the 17th minute and a jittery City fell behind 10 minutes later — the first time the champions had trailed in a league game since January.
“We heard the Brighton fans singing ‘1-0 to Liverpool’ just at the moment we conceded,” Kompany said.
Even when Sergio Aguero leveled 83 seconds after Glenn Murray’s header, City only moved back into top spot when Aymeric Laporte nodded in from Riyad Mahrez’s corner in the 38th minute.
It turned out to be the goal that decided the title.
But there were still nerves to be eased in the second half. Mahrez netted in the 63rd minute, a rare high point in his first season after joining City in a record 60 million pound (then $80 million) signing in July.
There was a stylish conclusion to City’s title defense when Ilkay Gundogan scored from a free kick in the 72nd minute for the team’s 95th goal in 38 league matches.
“We were creating chances, finding the gaps, imposing ourselves,” Kompany said. “Though the pitch was slow I felt we were magnificent. We did everything we needed to do in a game such as today.”
City became the first team to retain the trophy since Manchester United won its third straight in the 2007-08, one of 10 it earned under manager Alex Ferguson.
As City flew back to Manchester for a celebration with fans outside its Etihad Stadium, United supporters were reeling from a loss to Cardiff that saw Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side finish in sixth — 32 points behind its neighbor — and without any silverware.
City remains on course for an English treble, having already collected a League Cup and preparing for the FA Cup final against Watford on Saturday.
“The big competitors are like this,” Guardiola said. “They are never satisfied feeling this is enough.”
But the future is not all bright for a club in the midst of multiple investigations by footballing authorities following leaks of internal correspondence.
The Premier League is looking into whether City broke any rules covering financial compliance, third-party ownership and the recruitment of youngsters.
UEFA is investigating if City tried to disguise the source of revenue from overvalued sponsorships from Abu Dhabi, a case that could potentially lead to a ban from the Champions League — the one major trophy to elude the club.