Locked out of their stadium for a year due the pandemic, Manchester City fans couldn’t resist gathering outside as their team would be crowned Premier League champions for the third time in four seasons.
It was a result not inside the Etihad Stadium but just miles across Manchester at their fiercest rivals and nearest challengers that confirmed the title was reclaimed on Tuesday.
Manchester United losing 2-1 to Leicester left City with an unassailable 10-point lead with three games remaining.
Caglar Soyuncu’s 66th-minute header, after Mason Greenwood had replied to Luke Thomas’s opener for the visitors, sealed the Foxes win that ended United’s hopes of catching City.
Whereas United started the century dominating English football, City is now the force with five titles in 10 seasons.
While United fans gather outside Old Trafford in protest, at City they come to celebrate the 13 years of investment from Abu Dhabi that has transformed the fortunes of a club that was playing in the third tier until 1999 and won two English titles in the previous century – in 1937 and 1968.
Within minutes of the final whistle at Old Trafford a Champions banner was unfurled at the Etihad, with fans setting off blue flares and parading replica Premier League trophies.
They will finally be allowed back into the stadium – up to 10,000 of them – to see City collect the real trophy after their final game of the Premier League season against Everton on May 23.
Ending Liverpool’s reign as champions gives Pep Guardiola a third Premier League title in four seasons, adding to the trio of domestic titles he won at Barcelona and Bayern Munich as coach.
And he could yet complete the season by ending his 10-year wait to win the Champions League for a third time – after two with Barcelona.
In a congested pandemic-impacted season, City recovered from being eight points from the lead in November after eight games to score the most goals – 72 – and concede the fewest – 26.
“This has been a season and a Premier League title like no other. This was the hardest one,” Guardiola said in a statement.
“To come through this season, with all the restrictions and difficulties we’ve faced, and show the consistency we have is remarkable.
“It is relentless.”
City is seven-time champions of England but there’s a long way to go to overhaul United’s record of 20 titles – although the Red Devils haven’t won the league since Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.
“Of course it’s not the position we want to be in,” United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said.
“They have been lauded, and rightly so, as one of the best teams that’s been in the Premier League.
“They’ve shown where the bar is.
“I want to congratulate Pep.”
Meanwhile, Danny Ings scored twice – including his 100th goal in club football – as Southampton came from behind to beat Crystal Palace 3-1.