It looked like it was all going United’s ways. With five minutes to go until the final whistle of the season, they were leading 1-0 at the Stadium of Light and Sunderland didn’t look like they were capable of scoring. Over at the Etihad Stadium, City were trailing 2-1 to a ten-man QPR. If the scores stayed level, United would finish top with 89 points and City below them on 86. City supports everywhere were preparing for the worse. Some were in the stands crying, others leaving the stadium prematurely, thinking their team were already beaten. But the league has been anything but predictable this season and it ended in the most unforeseeable way imaginable.
Just as 5 minutes of extra-time was being signalled by the forth official, Edin Dzeko headed in City’s equaliser and two minutes later Aguero rounded Anton Ferdinand and shot the winner past Paddy Kenny. The Etihad erupted as Aguero and co celebrated wildly. The final whistle blew and Blue-clad fans rushed the pitch, screaming with the delight and hugging the players who had given them their first top flight trophy in 44 years.
But what does this all mean for the Premiership? One thing that is for certain is that the foundation of the “Big Four” that have dominated English football for the past 10 years is a thing of the past. Just three seasons ago, it seemed impossible that anyone but United, Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool had a realistic chance of winning the league. But with the emergence of City, as well the triumphs of Tottenham under Harry Radknapp (finishing 4th for the second time in three seasons) and Newcastle looking hungry for success, next seasons title race is going to be very hard to predict.
One thing that will be certain is that the City – United rivalry will be fiercer than it has ever been and both teams will do anything for the glory. City captain Vincent Kompany, who has been fantastic all season, said that he wants the title to be the first of many. "I want to win more. I'm hungry. This feeling is indescribable and I want it again,” the defender said after the game. "This season has been unbelievable, so emotional, and when you do it like [we did] there are no words to describe how it happened. For all the club legends and fans who have waited so long, I'm so, so happy." His words have echoed many pundits today who have talked of a “new dynasty” rising in Premier League football. It is a blue dynasty built on Abu Dhabi millions.
And while Sir Alex Ferguson has congratulated his “noisy neighbours”, he has warned that one trophy does not make City the same as United. "They can go on as much as they like. That's what you would expect, but the history of our club stands us aside. We don't need to worry about that. I think we have a rich history, better than anyone, and it will take them a century to get to our level of history.” However Ferguson knows an illustrious history won’t win United next year’s title alone. “For us it's still a challenge and we're good at challenges. We'll kick on from here.” And he believes his players have the right kind of resolve to fight back next season. "The players we think we have here, the younger players, they've got a good resolve about them. There should be a good response because they have got the right character.”
So what of the other teams fighting for glory? Can any of them realistically mount a challange to the Manchester clubs? Liverpool, once a powerhouse of English football, have finished a disappointing 8th and Chelsea, Premier League winners two seasons ago, finish 6th. It’d be wrong to write off either of these teams as has-beens but both need massive restructuring if they are to realistically challenge for the Premier League summit again. Chelsea may get an early boost to next season’s campaign if they win the Champions League by beating Bayern Munich in Germany next weekend, but they still need to reinvest in their aging squad. They have funds to do so. Roman Abramovich’s investment changed the face of English football when he bought Chelsea nearly a decade ago, and he could reignite Chelsea’s fortunes with smart buying next season.
Liverpool don’t have the same sort of resources so will realistically be building up their squad slowly over the next couple of season, trying to edge their way back towards the top of the table. Their Carling Cup win was good for the club but they need to work on their appalling league form if they are to gain any sort of traction and fight back into the top four. Investment in midfield and defence will be essential for Dalglish.
Tottenham will have to work hard if they are to keep key players such as Bale and Modric, but consistent Champions League football should keep them at White Hart Lane. With Redknapp no longer distracted by the England manager position he will return to his club with a focus that Spurs lacked in the last weeks of the season. Newcastle finished a very respectable 5th thanks to a strike-force of Demba Ba and Cisse, who just couldn't stop scoring. However do they have the strength to break into the top four? Probably not with their current squad, but they should certainly feel invigorated by their success this season that has defied everyone’s expectations.
As for Arsenal? They finished in 3rd and without a trophy, which is becoming a regular occurrence under Wenger. The Frenchman will have to hold on tohis key players if he wants to return Arsenal to realistic title challengers. Van Persie has been strongly linked to a move to Spain and Wenger will have to fight to keep his goal-machine if he wants Arsenal to succeed domestically and in Europe. They have also managed to secure the services of Lukas Podolski, the German super striker, who should strengthen their attack in front of goal.
With so many teams now gunning for glory, it looks like next year’s season is going to be even more exciting and even more unpredictable than ever before. 18 August can’t come quick enough.