There’s another word for Manchester City’s dominance: unhealthy

<span>There were differing emotions for <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Aston Villa;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Aston Villa</a>, <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Manchester City;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Manchester City</a> and <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Arsenal;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Arsenal</a> on the final day of the season.</span><span>Composite: AFP/Getty Images;Tom Jenkins/The Guardian; AP</span>

There were, perhaps, being generous, around 20 minutes on Sunday, between Mohammed Kudus’s goal to pull West Ham within one and Rodri putting Manchester City 3-1 up, when there was something that, if you peered hard enough, looked a little like jeopardy. But, in truth, the final day was as good as done after 76 seconds when Phil Foden put City ahead. The great title race ended with a distinct sense of anticlimax.

When Arsenal drew at City at the end of March, Arsenal led the table by four points having played a game more. There was some thought then that the goalless draw suited Arsenal more because it maintained their lead. Win their seven remaining games and they’d be champions. But given how the March game went, its drabness, the relative comfort with which Arsenal contained City, there was also a sense that it represented an opportunity missed for Arsenal. Given City won just two of their 10 games against the top six this season; could Arsenal have been a little more proactive? Could they have put clear water between themselves and City? Because it turned out they needed it.

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There was much debate last season as to whether Arsenal had bottled the title race, or whether their late season stumble was a natural result of their comparatively slender squad. In truth it was probably a bit of both: the collapses from comfortable positions away at Liverpool and West Ham had little to do with the players available. This season, there has been no similar capitulation. They will look at defeats to Fulham and West Ham over Christmas and then in the run-in against Aston Villa and know that a win in any one of those would have brought the title, but all teams lose games. Or at least they should. A total of 89 points with a +62 goal-difference would have won the league last season and in more than half of the Premier League’s 20-team seasons.

But what City are doing is out of step with what used to be considered normal. They have won nine out of nine since that draw against Arsenal, all of them by at least two goals. They are unbeaten in 35 games. They have become the first side in the English top-flight’s 136-year history to win the title four seasons in a row. They have won six of the last seven championships, an unprecedented level of dominance. You can put that down to the brilliance of Pep Guardiola, the resources behind the club, their spend on wages, the acuity of their recruitment or the 115 charges relating to alleged breaches of financial regulations, but superiority of that kind is unhealthy for a league that has historically prided itself on its competitiveness.

As Barney Ronay pointed out on Saturday, with the top this season being the same as last season’s and the three promoted sides all being relegated – with three of the worst 20 points tallies in Premier League history, what had seemed a relatively entertaining season has ended up in a sense of futility. What was the point of it all?

Aston Villa, of course, deserve great credit for securing qualification for the Champions League for the first time in the tournament’s modern guise, and perhaps particularly for the quirk of doing so despite beginning and ending the season by conceding five. Crystal Palace, much improved under Oliver Glasner and since the return of Michael Olise and Eberechi Eze from injury, have been fun in recent weeks, and Brighton, Bournemouth, Wolves and Fulham have had their moments, but none of it really counts as much of a surprise.

Even at Chelsea, reliably comedic for several months, it seems the fun may be over: they ended the season with five straight wins. Only the top three have taken more points than them since Boxing Day and the sense is that Mauricio Pochettino has finally sifted through the mess left by an unfocused £1bn spree to find a workable system.

Thank goodness, then, for Manchester United, still boldly defying reality by repeatedly being a complete shambles despite the highest wage bill in the league – although even that may be under threat if it turns out Jim Ratcliffe has more understanding of how to run a football club than he did of the likely consequences of Brexit.

City may have won the title by just two points but this is a little like 2018-19, when they pipped Liverpool by a single point by winning their final 14 games of the season as Liverpool won their final nine: ostensibly close but essentially as dramatic as the final stage of the Tour de France as the GC leaders process down the Champs Elysées.

English football, it turns out, could handle oligarchs, hedge funds and foreign states running its clubs when they were brash and inefficient. Phenomenal wealth plus supreme competence (and, perhaps, depending what happens with those 115 charges, something else besides), though, equals an excellence that is predictable and perhaps a little dull.

On this day

Barcelona haven’t always been the club they are now, impoverished and desperately chasing old glories. They haven’t always been a team that even knew glories. It was only after the return to the club of Johan Cruyff in 1988 that they were elevated to become one of the undoubted elite of Europe. Cruyff led them to four successive La Liga titles between 1990-91 and 1993-94; in the previous 33 years they had won the league only twice.

But most important was the European Cup. Real Madrid had won the first five editions and, even though they had own it only once after that by the time of Cruyff’s return, it seemed like their competition, something from which Barcelona were excluded. Barça had lost in the European Cup final in 1961 and again, unthinkably, to Steaua Bucharest in 1986. But under Cruyff they reached the final again in 1992. On 20 May 1992 at Wembley, a Ronald Koeman free-kick in extra-time gave a Barcelona side including Guardiola, Michael Laudrup and Hristo Stoichkov a 1-0 win over Sampdoria. The curse was lifted and Barcelona have gone on to win the trophy on four further occasions.

  • This is an extract from Soccer with Jonathan Wilson, a weekly look from the Guardian US at the game in Europe and beyond. Subscribe for free here. Have a question for Jonathan? Email, and he’ll answer the best in a future edition