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Saturday, 19 January, 2019

How Manchester City were crowned Premier League champions

Pep Guardiola's men rule England in style

Vincent Kompany celebrates City's first goal against Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium
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Never ignore the obvious.

Manchester City, with the best manager and aided by the most lavish summer spending spree in Europe, were always going to be difficult to stop in this season's Premier League and they were latched on to by many punters from the moment betting opened.

Available at 9-4 in the first show to be crowned Premier League champions, City were 15-8 favourites when the Racing Post published The Big Kick-Off, our pre-season betting guide on August 2 and backed down to 7-4 at the off after resolving problematic goalkeeper and full-back positions with the signings of Ederson, Benjamin Mendy, Kyle Walker and Danilo. Bernardo Silva also arrived from Monaco.

Manchester United initially kept pace with their neighbours, winning six of their opening seven matches, but they were soon shaken off and the other challengers were beaten into submission even earlier.

Champions Chelsea failed to win four of their opening eight games, Arsenal had to wait until October 14 - a 2-1 defeat at Watford - to score an away goal, Tottenham had early Wembley woes with a "home" loss to Chelsea as well as draws with Burnley and Swansea, while Liverpool started with only three victories in their first nine fixtures.

Pre-season talk of a titanic six-way title tussle quickly became a two-horse race and City's sizzling September followed an awkward August as the market leaders justified favouritism.

A 2-0 win on the opening weekend at Brighton saw Pep Guardiola's side cut to 6-4 and they remained that price in the subsequent 1-1 home draw with Everton which included a first-half red card to Walker.

United were 9-4 shots at that point - the shortest price they would hit - as Jose Mourinho's men started with 4-0 wins over West Ham and Swansea to hoodwink the public into believing we would be in for a thriller.

However, Raheem Sterling's dramatic last-gasp winner at Bournemouth put City back on track and 7-5 for the title, a price which became 5-4 after a thumping 5-0 Etihad triumph over ten-man Liverpool when United drew 2-2 at Stoke on the same day.

City followed their five-goal haul against Liverpool with a 6-0 win at Watford but it was not until the 5-0 crushing of Crystal Palace on September 30 that Guardiola's side were cut to odds-on.

The 10-11 was chopped to 8-11 as City shrugged off the loss of Sergio Aguero, injured in a car crash in Amsterdam, to dominate 2016-17 champions Chelsea in a 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge.

Blues reject Kevin De Bruyne scored the only goal, a memorable one at that, but City's overall performance was sensational as they had 62 per cent possession and 17 shots to Chelsea's four.

October, not a month usually known for settling titles, proved to be decisive with United drawing at Liverpool and losing at Huddersfield while swashbuckling City smashed seven past Stoke and beat Burnley 3-0.

By that stage the leaders were 1-4 and Spurs were seen as second favourites but Tottenham lost at United, who were themselves beaten at Chelsea and by Bonfire Night the only fireworks were coming from City.

They beat Arsenal easily to go 1-6 for the title and they were quoted at 12-1 to match the Gunners' unbeaten league campaign of 2003-04.

Four wins later City were off to Old Trafford for their most difficult assignment of the campaign, at least on paper.

Paddy Power paid out on City being crowned champions before that clash on December 10 and were offering 9-1 for an unbeaten season, a price which became 6-1 with bet365 after a comfortable 2-1 victory at United.

City were 66-1 for an invincible Premier League season before the campaign started and there were few scares until some New Year's Eve jitters at Selhurst Park with Palace's Luka Milivojevic missing a last-gasp penalty in a 0-0 draw.

The stalemate snapped a Premier League record 18 straight wins, a run which had started on August 26.

Goalkeeper Ederson had been the saviour at Selhurst thanks to the dramatic spot-kick stop but his first stinker came a couple of weeks later to end the invincible dream.

City's unbeaten season was 9-2 with bet365 when Liverpool took advantage of some shoddy defending at Anfield to record a 4-3 success in the most exciting top-flight game of the season.

Guardiola's side were still 15 points clear and attention turned to an unprecedented quadruple attempt. City opened up at 500-1 for a clean sweep of trophies but were only 20-1 to land all four in the aftermath of the painful Anfield reverse.

Industry-wide liabilities on the quad were huge, yet an unlikely figure was to rescue bookmakers from the multi-million pound payout as City went into the FA Cup fifth round as 12-1 shots for the quad.

Fabian Delph's first-half red card at Wigan gave a hint of an upset and Will Grigg duly obliged for the 22-1 Sky Bet League One outsiders. Grigg had been 16-1 to score first, 1-0 Wigan was 55-1 and City's quad bid was dashed in the same week they lifted the League Cup. 

They missed the chance to be crowned champions in the sweetest way possible when they lost 3-2 to United at the Etihad.

It was the start of a rocky week which also saw them dumped out of the Champions League by Liverpool. But they got themselves to the brink of glory with a sparkling 3-1 Wembley win over Spurs on Saturday and the title was decided at Old Trafford when United lost 1-0 at home to 20-1 shots West Brom.

The Premier League has been a procession since early autumn for the side with the best manager, the most talented players and the biggest budget.

Sometimes it really does pay to follow the obvious.

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The Premier League has been a procession since early autumn for the side with the best manager, the most talented players and the biggest budget
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