The Man City machine sputters, but sneaks past Tottenham to the cusp of a historic EPL title

For 50-plus minutes, the Manchester City machine sputtered. It had roared to the cusp of a fourth-straight Premier League title. It needed two more wins, the first in an utterly strange environment Tuesday at Tottenham — where it nearly veered off course.

Nearly, but not quite.

In the 51st minute, the machine's main cogs — Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland — combined for a goal.

In an occasionally frantic second half, backup goalkeeper Stefan Ortega stood on his proverbial head.

Haaland converted a late penalty, and City held on for a 2-0 victory.

It was their eighth Premier League win in a row, and it took them two points ahead of Arsenal at the top of the table, with just one game apiece to go. City will host West Ham on Sunday (11 a.m. ET). If the reigning champions win, they will reign again.

And if they do, they will achieve something that neither Jose Mourinho's Chelsea nor Arsène Wenger's Arsenal nor Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United nor Bob Paisley's Liverpool ever did.

No club, in the 124-year history of English football, has ever won four consecutive top-flight titles. Manchester City, expertly steered by Pep Guardiola, and allegedly boosted by 100-plus breaches of financial rules, is 90 minutes away from becoming the first.

In 2020-21, they cruised to the first of their consecutive titles relatively unchallenged. Ever since, they have lured the league in to a now-familiar pattern. They've hit a few bumps in autumn and winter. Challengers — Liverpool in 2021-22, Arsenal in 2022-23, and both this season — have arisen. And then City, having found its rhythm, has sped past them.

In 2022, after a Feb. 19 defeat to Spurs, City closed with nine wins, three draws, no losses.

In 2023, a run of 14 wins and one draw in 15 EPL games left Arsenal in the dust, and clinched the title with more than a week to spare.

In 2024, the unbeaten run, spanning all competitions, now stands at 34 games.

Manchester City's Erling Haaland celebrates scoring his side's first goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Tuesday, May 14, 2024.(AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Erling Haaland's two goals lifted Manchester City past Tottenham 2-0 on Tuesday. The Cityzens are now one win away from a fourth consecutive EPL title. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Since a Dec. 6 loss at Aston Villa, City has piled up 28 wins, six draws and, technically, zero blemishes — only a penalty shootout loss to Real Madrid in the quarterfinals of the Champions League. The Cityzens have hit their stride, just as they always seem to do. Expensive new signings have settled. Injuries have healed. Guardiola's teachings have become ingrained, and clockwork movements have become habitual.

And the result, as always, has been dominance. Since March became April, City has scored 30, conceded five in eight Premier League games.

The eighth, though, was the nerviest. At times, it felt harrowing. A sloppy first half left Guardiola stalking back and forth between the sideline and his seat on the bench, frustrated, at times furious. Passes went awry. Spurs had more possession — which bears repeating due to the rarity: Tottenham had more possession than Manchester City.

The teams went to halftime deadlocked at 0-0, and Arsenal fans perked up, increasingly optimistic that their biggest rival might do them a favor. The buildup to Tuesday had been littered with jokes and conflicted feelings — which were reflected in the subdued atmosphere at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

But with a strong first half, Spurs players put any skepticism of their motives to bed. It was the "completely the opposite" of what some outsiders had expected," Guardiola said. "It was not an easy game."

City, though, rose to meet the moment soon after halftime, then rode a little luck — and a heroic performance from Ortega, the same backup goalkeeper who'd stymied Liverpool back in March.

“Stefan Ortega has saved us," Guardiola said postgame. "Otherwise, Arsenal are Premier League champions.”

Ortega, on for the injured Ederson — who, after a collision, could hardly see out of one eye — made two fantastic saves. As Son Heung-Min bore down on him in the 87th minute, Guardiola crouched and cringed, and eventually fell onto his backside, as the title flashed before his eyes.

But Ortega spread his limbs to deny Son. Minutes later, Jérémy Doku won a penalty, which Haaland tucked away. City climbed back to the top of the table, and surely, for a fourth straight May, that's where it will stay.

The result, meanwhile, condemned Tottenham to a second straight season — and fourth in five — outside the Champions League. Aston Villa clinched fourth place, and qualified for Europe's top competition for the first time since 1982-83.