Kyle Walker has admitted the past fortnight has felt more like a relegation scrap for Manchester City than a soon to be title-winning campaign.
The world caved in on the Blues’ season in the space of seven days when Pep Guardiola’s men crashed out of the Champions League at the last eight stage and lost a Manchester derby – from 2-0 up – that could have seen them clinch the title in the sweetest fashion.
City went from being hailed as one of the best teams in the Premier League era to being just mere mortals again.
But true champions come back fighting, and that is why Saturday’s 3-1 away win over Tottenham — the day before West Brom’s shock win over Manchester United at Old Trafford handed them the trophy — was special.
They were back to being the brilliant team which has thrilled the Premier League this season; normal service resumed as their pace, power and Total Football pulled Spurs apart from all angles.
For Walker, it was extra special because it was against the club he left in acrimonious circumstances last summer, and the England full-back says it proved what they are made of after those successive defeats to Liverpool (twice) and Manchester United.
Walker said: “We’ve had probably the toughest period, definitely in my career at the club.
“We’ve gone from doing so well in all competitions to three losses, and sometimes it felt like it was a relegation battle in there (the dressing room) with the mood.
“We’re all winners and we want to win and in those games unfortunately we didn’t. But we put that right. That shows the character and the belief in the standard of players in the dressing room.
“I’m not going to stand here and say we didn’t deserve what happened. Liverpool beat us in two games and congratulations to them.
“I wish them all the success in the Champions League because it would be fantastic for an English club to go and win it.
“I’ve got a bitter taste in my mouth that it isn’t us but you have to take your hat off to them. They beat us over the two games and that’s all you can say.”
Gabriel Jesus, Ilkay Gundogan and Raheem Sterling were on target as City were far too good for one of their closest domestic rivals, highlighting the gap between Guardiola’s men and the rest.
But even though they are so close, Walker insists they will not start celebrating until it really is all over.
“I won’t taste it until it’s completely done,” he said. “I know it’s a cliché but I’ve seen mad things happen in football, especially in the last week. Until it’s finally over the line I won’t say anything.
“We knew it was a massive, important game. It’s been a long season, with a lot of games in a lot of competitions. It was probably a feeling of relief after what’s happened in the last week, which is understandable. We showed great character.”
It was a big win for Walker personally as he left Tottenham for City in a record breaking £54million move last summer to become the most expensive defender in the world at the time.
Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino was disparaging about him in his book, questioning his decision to push to leave during the run-in to last season. But Pochettino offered an olive branch in the build-up to the reunion at Wembley, urging fans to give Walker a good reception.
Walker insists this season has fully justified his decision but urged his old team to go and win the FA Cup — they face Manchester United in Saturday’s semi-final.
“You always say is the grass greener on the other side, and it looks it this way,” he said. “But we can’t just stop at one Premier League. It needs to be a number of years before we can be regarded as one of the top teams ever to have played in the Premier League.
“I heard what the Tottenham boss said and that just shows the respect we have for each other. Whatever you read, I know what really happened. I know the truth behind it and so does he. He can tell his story and I can tell my story.
“But I won’t stand here and start slagging people off because that’s not what I’m about. I left because it was a time in my career that I needed to move on. And luckily it’s worked out.
“They’ve got Manchester United in the semi-finals of the FA Cup, which is a big trophy for them to go and win. So, please God they go and do that because their lads deserve it.”