Pep Guardiola says winning the Premier League will be one of the greatest achievements of his glittering career after Manchester City moved to the brink of the title with a stylish 3-1 win over Tottenham on Saturday.
Guardiola’s side extended their lead over second-placed Manchester United to 16 points thanks to goals from Gabriel Jesus, Ilkay Gundogan and Raheem Sterling at Wembley.
Christian Eriksen had reduced the deficit to 2-1 in the first half, but City will be crowned champions if United lose to bottom-of-the-table West Brom on Sunday.
If United draw the race would also effectively be over as City would be 15 points clear with a maximum of 15 available to Jose Mourinho’s team, who have a vastly inferior goal difference.
A United victory would keep City’s champagne on ice for a few more days at least.
But a United defeat against Bournemouth in midweek or a City win over Swansea next Sunday would wrap up the silverware.
Guardiola has won titles with Barcelona and Bayern Munich, while also conquering the Champions League during his Camp Nou reign.
But the Spaniard believes leading City to the title would rank among his finest moments.
“It’s more difficult (to win in England). Physicality, weather conditions, the amount of games.
The Premier League is so, so tough,” Guardiola said.
“That’s why winning next week, hopefully we will, it will remain in our hearts forever.
“It’s one of the best by far. Winning titles in every league is important, with Barcelona was special.
“But the Premier League is one of the nicest and most important.”
After sweeping through most of the season in regal fashion, City had crashed down to earth with a bump over the last 10 days.
Their limp Champions League quarter-final exit against Liverpool came either side of their failure to clinch the title last weekend, when United came from two goals down to beat them.
But it quickly became clear that run of three successive defeats wasn’t weighing on City.
Taking a shot at critics who slammed City’s recent blip, Guardiola said: “People said it was a big failure last week. They don’t understand anything.
“The Champions League is seven knockout games. The league is nine months. It’s much more important what these players have done.
“The players have my total respect. It’s incredible. They have been unbelievable.”
Asked if it would be extra special to win a league where some said his purist principles wouldn’t work, Guardiola said: “Yes. We did it…we almost did it!”
Unusually sluggish, Tottenham didn’t test City and, with a swagger back in their stride, Guardiola’s men took the lead in the 22nd minute.
Most of their goals this season have come with a flourish, but for once City took a more direct approach.
City back on track
Vincent Kompany’s long pass caught Tottenham defender Davinson Sanchez flat-footed and Jesus made him pay as he raced clear to fire past Lloris.
City’s problems were suddenly a thing of the past and they went further ahead three minutes later.
When Sterling weaved his way towards the Tottenham area, Lloris raced off his line to make a crude lunge that sent the City winger flying.
While it was a clear foul, the contact appeared to be made just outside the area, yet, to Tottenham’s fury, Jonathan Moss awarded a penalty that Gundogan slotted home with ease.
It was almost too easy for City and they slipped up in the 42nd minute.
Running onto Harry Kane’s defence-splitting pass, Eriksen’s shot hit City’s Aymeric Laporte and deflected back onto the Tottenham midfielder on its way past Ederson.
City regained control after half-time and should have been out of sight as Jesus scuffed badly wide and Sterling fared no better with a woeful close-range miss.
But they moved within touching distance of the title in the 72nd minute.
Lloris palmed Jesus’s shot to Sterling and the winger drilled into the roof of the net to leave City fans singing “we’re going to win the league”.
Salah has the “wow” factor
City’s Champions League conquerors moved ever closer to sealing their place in the competition next season as Liverpool cruised past Bournemouth with Salah again taking centre stage.
“What a number. Wow!” Exclaimed manager Jurgen Klopp on hearing Salah is the first Liverpool player since Ian Rush 31 years ago to score 40 in a season.
“Mo knows what this means and the way we play suits him,” added Klopp. “For him, for the boys, it’s fantastic and today he certainly didn’t look like he doesn’t want to score in the next few games.”
All of Liverpool’s prolific front three were on target as Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino struck either side of Salah’s deft header to take their combined tally for the season to 82.
Chelsea kept their feint hopes of Champions League football next season alive by closing to within seven points of Spurs with a stunning eight-minute fightback to deepen Southampton’s predicament in the bottom three.
Saints led 2-0 with 20 minutes remaining through Dusan Tadic and debutant Jan Bednarek.
However, Olivier Giroud came off the bench to finally kickstart his Chelsea career with his first two Premier League goals for the club either side of Eden Hazard’s leveller.
“As long as it is mathematically possible we will believe we can reach the top four,” said Giroud as Chelsea closed to within seven points of Spurs in fourth. “We have got five finals to play, after that we will see.”
Crystal Palace had been set to drop into the bottom three on goal difference prior to Chelsea’s comeback.
However, they now enjoy a six-point cushion over Southampton thanks to a thrilling 3-2 win over Brighton at Selhurst Park with Wilfried Zaha scoring twice.
Huddersfield look well set for a stay up as Tom Ince netted in stoppage time beat Watford 1-0 and open up a seven-point lead on the bottom three.
Swansea couldn’t make home advantage count against Everton, but also opened up a five-point lead on Southampton just above the relegation zone with a 1-1 draw.
At the other end of the table, Burnley closed to within two points of sixth-placed Arsenal as a fast start was enough to secure a 2-1 win over Leicester.