MANCHESTER: Manchester City celebrated their third consecutive Premier League title on Sunday as a much-changed side was still good enough to beat Chelsea 1-0 at the Etihad.
Pep Guardiola’s men clinched a fifth title in six seasons on Saturday when second-placed Arsenal were beaten 1-0 at Nottingham Forest.
That gave Guardiola the luxury of resting most of his star names with one eye on the FA Cup and Champions League finals next month as City go for the treble.
The strength of City’s squad was exemplified by Julian Alvarez, who has spent most of the season as Erling Haaland’s understudy, scoring his 17th goal of the campaign to extend the English champions’ unbeaten run in all competitions to 24 games.
But a festive afternoon for City was marred at full-time as thousands of fans spilt onto the pitch despite pleas from the club to remain in the stands.
Guardiola made nine changes in all from the side that thrashed Real Madrid 4-0 in midweek.
The youthful hosts were still too sharp for the beleaguered visitors early on and took the lead on 12 minutes.
Alvarez continued his stunning season for club and country as the Argentine World Cup winner swept home Cole Palmer’s pass.
Palmer made the most of a rare Premier League start and was unlucky not to double City’s lead when his goalbound effort was cleared off the line by Trevoh Chalobah.
Defeat confirmed that Chelsea will end a miserable campaign in the bottom half and a familiar lack of cutting edge in front of goal showed why the Blues have struggled under three different managers this season.
Raheem Sterling should have marked his return to the Etihad with at least one goal but was denied by a fine save by Stefan Ortega when one-on-one with the German goalkeeper.
Moments later Conor Gallagher headed onto the post with just Ortega to beat.
But the lack of jeopardy for both sides shone through as the majority of the game was played out at a snail’s pace under the unusually baking Manchester sun.
Not that the home fans minded as they serenaded their side with cries of “championees” and bounced around doing the Poznan celebration with their backs to the pitch.
Chelsea had the better chances in the second-half to at least avoid a seventh defeat in nine games under caretaker boss Frank Lampard.
Even when the stand-in City goalkeeper Ortega was finally beaten by Sterling, John Stones was on hand to clear off the line.
Mykhailo Mudryk and Cesar Azpilicueta also wasted late chances to grab a point.
At the other end, Kalvin Phillips was inches away from his first City goal as the England midfielder’s header came back off the inside of the post.
Alvarez had a second goal ruled out for handball by Riyad Mahrez 20 minutes from time before Guardiola gave the home crowd what they wanted by unleashing Haaland from the bench.
The Norwegian went for goal with his first touch and nearly teed up Rico Lewis with a shot across goal.
But he was made to wait for his 53 goal of the season as City serenely played out the final stages to open up a seven-point lead at the top of the table with two games remaining to Arsenal’s one.