Manchester City have now won three Premier League titles in four seasons
Manchester City's response to losing their Premier League crown to Liverpool last season has been emphatic, with the title reclaimed in style and with room to spare.
Pep Guardiola's side finished 18 points adrift of Liverpool last season but have reversed that deficit to win their third title in four seasons – an achievement garnished with a place in their first Champions League final against Chelsea in Istanbul as well as a fourth successive League Cup triumph.
So what comes next for Manchester City and their manager after this richly deserved success?
Where will Guardiola look to strengthen?
Declan Rice, Jack Grealish, Harry Kane and Erling Braut Haaland are four names who have been linked with a move to City
Guardiola is not a manager to make signings for the sake of it, but there are likely to be areas he will want to examine. It is the law of champions to add power from a position of strength.
He surprised many by saying he is unlikely to replace Manchester City's greatest goalscorer Sergio Aguero when the Argentina striker ends a 10-year career at Etihad Stadium after the Champions League final.
Guardiola cited the financial situation in the game as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic as his reason, repeating the argument when linked with Borussia Dortmund's coveted striker Erling Braut Haaland.
Aguero, however, will leave a huge gap after scoring 258 goals in 387 appearances. Will Guardiola believe his current resources can cover that deficit as successfully as they have this season, when the striker has missed a large number of games?
Or will he suddenly be presented with a transfer opportunity he and City cannot resist?
Haaland is understood to find a move to City an enticing prospect. It may become even more attractive if Dortmund fail to achieve Champions League football next season.
And if Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane, as many expect, feels it is time for new surroundings, it is hard to imagine Guardiola and City not at least being in the conversation.
City have flourished using a false nine system which operates without an orthodox striker in the Aguero mould. Gabriel Jesus is the closest City have to that kind of traditional striker and he is a player City feel can develop even further.
City do not lack for attacking riches – Raheem Sterling has lost his place towards the end of the season – and have been slick and successful in the striker-less system, so it may be Guardiola feels happy with what he has.
Fernandinho has been the rock on which much of City's success since his arrival from Shakhtar Donetsk eight years ago has been built, but he was 36 on the day they reached the Champions League final with victory against Paris St-Germain.
He was keeping Rodri out of City's team when they beat PSG so Guardiola may yet maintain the status quo in that area, with the Brazil midfielder still a huge influence, and a very vocal one, on and off the pitch.
West Ham United's Declan Rice is coveted by many top clubs and would certainly fill that deep-lying role while Jack Grealish, a more creative midfielder, has also been linked with City.
City will also lose 20-year-old defender Eric Garcia – seemingly to Barcelona – this summer. This creates another vacancy but once more City have high-quality options in that position already.
Aymeric Laporte, outstanding for so long, has been sidelined by the success of the Ruben Dias-John Stones partnership while Nathan Ake, a £40m signing from Bournemouth last summer, is still waiting to stake his claim.
Benjamin Mendy's mixed form prompted suggestions of a move for a left-back but Joao Cancelo has been outstanding and Oleksandr Zinchenko has been a stand-out in the Champions League, so it hardly feels like a priority.
That said, Guardiola may well have his failure to swiftly replace iconic captain and defender Vincent Kompany in his thoughts. It was a mistake that left City weak in that position until the £65m arrival of Dias from Benfica in September.
The vacuum created by Kompany's exit is a reminder to City that they cannot stand still.
So, while it is difficult to see City not adding to their resources and build on their superiority this season – knowing their rivals will come for them – it feels as if only the highest calibre of player at the right price will persuade Guardiola to move.
Can Man City dominate again next season?
The signing of Ruben Dias has been pivotal to Man City's success this season
Manchester City's title triumph has felt like a formality since they went top of the Premier League on 26 January after 5-0 win at West Bromwich Albion.
They have never looked like being overhauled but Guardiola will know City's wounded rivals will regroup for next season.
Ironically, questions were asked about City's own hunger for the title fight and Guardiola's ability to cure defensive frailties after a shock 5-2 home defeat to Leicester City on 27 September that left them 13th after two league games. That, though, turned out to be their lowest position of the season.
The transformative moment came two days later when City completed a deal for Ruben Dias, with the effect the Portugal defender had on their vulnerable rearguard being as significant as Virgil van Dijk's to Liverpool following his move from Southampton.
Since City lost at Leicester City they have played 32 league games, won 24, drawn five and lost three. They have scored 66 goals and conceded only 18.
It means they will start next season as favourites to win a fourth title in five seasons.
History tells us, however, that retaining a Premier League is a difficult assignment and any argument that City are in a position to dominate for years underplays the desire of rivals such as Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United to rebuild and challenge for the title.
City will start next season as the dominant domestic power – but they will know there are no guarantees that will continue.
Who will be Man City's big rivals?
Can Chelsea, Liverpool or Manchester United challenge Manchester City's dominance next season?
Liverpool's wounded pride and Chelsea's resurgence under Thomas Tuchel will send them into next season's title race with strong purpose while city rivals Manchester United have growing aspirations of their own.
Liverpool and manager Jurgen Klopp, in particular, will be desperate to revive a rivalry which has defined the Premier League in recent seasons.
They will feel the absence of supporters inside Anfield allied to a devastating injury list that has seen the world-class Van Dijk and fellow central defenders Joe Gomez and Joel Matip miss the majority of the season has hugely affected them. Captain Jordan Henderson and forward Diogo Jota have also suffered lengthy absences.
It does not excuse everything in a failed title defence that has been shambolic at times, including the wrong sort of record-breaking with six straight Anfield losses in the league for the first time in Liverpool's history.
Injuries or not, that is an embarrassment and should not cover up just how much better City have been than Liverpool this season. And it must be said that every club has had to deal with empty stadiums.
Liverpool have not actually been statistically poor in defence. The weakness has surprisingly come in what we have come to know as a devastating attack. Mohamed Salah has been his usual source of goals but the returns from Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have been desperately disappointing.
Liverpool are sure to strengthen, although they will also be careful with their cash. Klopp may feel his best chance of fighting City again will be the return of a healthy Van Dijk and his other defenders.
Chelsea are already many sound judges' tip to run City closest next season as a result of Tuchel's brilliant work to take them to the FA Cup final then the Champions League final.
They face City in the Champions League showpiece and that is another huge chance to make a statement of intent after beating them in the FA Cup semi-final.
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is sure to support Tuchel in the market even though so many pieces are already in place after last summer's influx. Improvements next season can be expected from the likes of Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner and Ben Chilwell.
They are currently on a roll and that momentum will surely carry on into a title challenge next season.
Manchester United will feel the progress they have made this season can be maintained next term.
While Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side never seriously threatened a title challenge, they have been the next best thing and a run to the Europa League final will boost the self-belief of both manager and players.
Edinson Cavani's enduring brilliance has made keeping him a priority but much may depend on work in the transfer market as the likes of Borussia Dortmund duo Jude Bellingham and Jadon Sancho, Grealish and Kane have been touted as potential targets.
City have finally crossed the psychological barrier into the Champions League final, and they will feel they can be regulars at the elite level now.
There is an opportunity to cement that status as Barcelona and Real Madrid are in transition and reduced financial circumstances. City have proved their superiority to Paris St-Germain – albeit you imagine Mauricio Pochettino will make a real impact next term – but they will be wary of a renewed Bayern Munich challenge under new coach Julian Nagelsmann.
Manchester City have dominated domestically and are yet to be nudged off track in Europe this season – and you can be sure they will be working behind the scenes to ensure it stays that way in 2021-22.
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