As they stepped onto the pitch, Liverpool’s players were given a guard of honour from Manchester City. It was the last time they looked like Premier League champions at the Etihad Stadium.
Exactly a week after Liverpool’s 30-year English title drought ended, the dethroned champions made sure there was a comedown from the partying as City ran over the visitors in a 4-0 win.
Consider it a message from Pep Guardiola’s side.
“Next season started today,” said City forward Raheem Sterling, who has won the Premier League twice since leaving Liverpool five years ago, “and we did well.”
The slack defending and lack of sharpness from Liverpool was perhaps forgivable from players who had spent the previous 31 rounds establishing an unprecedented 23-point lead to become England’s earliest champions.
But such an emphatic loss is not how Juergen Klopp wanted to close out such a memorable season. Especially when Liverpool still have enough games to overhaul City’s record 100-point haul from 2017-18.
It was a night to forget for so many Liverpool players – particularly Joe Gomez, who dragged Sterling down to concede a penalty converted by Kevin De Bruyne in the 25th minute.
De Bruyne and Phil Foden helped City stylishly waltz through Liverpool and show how the title can be reclaimed next season.
Receiving a pass from Foden, Sterling took the ball past Gomez before knocking in City’s second in the 35th minute.
Before the break, City still had time to produce a third.
The technique in the buildup would have had fans on their feet – if any were allowed in the stadium.
Instead fewer than 300 people inside the Etihad could savour the counterattack that was capped by Foden playing a one-two with De Bruyne before raising the ball into the net past Alisson.
It summed up Liverpool’s night that the fourth goal came from an own goal after another blistering City attacking move.
De Bruyne picked out Sterling who turned Andrew Robertson and sent in a shot that was diverted into his own net by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Klopp rejected the suggestion his players had switched off after winning the title.
“I saw brilliant attitude. We didn’t behave like players who became champions a week ago.
“I think we proved that City are an unbelievably good team. I saw City’s season, I didn’t see a bad game even when they lost.”
Meanwhile, Tottenham Hotspur’s European Champions League hopes are in tatters after a 3-1 defeat at Sheffield United.
Spurs are now seven points behind Wolves and Manchester United with six games to play.
They look out of the race for fourth after goals from Sander Berge, Lys Mousset and Oli McBurnie gave the Blades their first win since the restart.
Jose Mourinho’s men were denied a quickfire response to the Blades’ opener by a VAR call that again highlighted the questionable handball rule.
Harry Kane slotted home, but VAR official Michael Oliver ruled Lucas Moura had handled the ball in the build-up, having been fouled and the goal was chalked off, leaving Spurs enraged.
Kane did eventually get on the score sheet but it left Jose Mourinho’s men realistically looking at the Europa League as their only way back into Europe next season.