Kompany delivering Man City the title would be a fitting farewell for the captain
MANCHESTER, England -- Vincent Kompany obviously wasn't going to score from there. His teammates knew it, his manager knew it, and, crucially, Leicester City's players seemed to know it as well.
There were 20 minutes remaining in a match of cloying tension on Monday at the Etihad Stadium when Aymeric Laporte squared the ball to Kompany midway inside the Leicester half. This is where Manchester City were. Their centre-backs camped on the halfway line, their forward players clustering ineffectively around the opposition penalty area, they had thrown everything at Leicester and were rapidly hurtling toward last-roll-of-the-dice territory.
In the run of 12 straight wins that preceded this game, Pep Guardiola's side had taken the lead no later than the 63rd minute. This was unfamiliar and uncomfortable terrain.
Kompany pushed the ball a few feet in front of him. Leicester had been in their opponents' faces throughout the game, but here, no doubt lulled into a false sense of security by the identity of the player in possession, they backed off. Wilfred Ndidi and Hamza Choudhury continued to jog across the edge of the penalty area. James Maddison stood off. So Kompany took another touch. Then he let fly.
The camera angle from behind Kompany told the story best. He hit across the ball with the laces of his right boot, the effort of the strike lifting both of his feet clean off the ground. The ball arrowed high toward goal, beyond the despairing hands of Kasper Schmeichel, and hit the top-right corner as squarely as it is possible for the top-right corner to be hit.
It was a wonder goal, a one-in-a-million strike, and the more you unpicked it, the more absurd it became. It was Kompany's first goal in more than a year, and it gave him a first Premier League goal from outside the box at the 37th attempt. He had not hit even the target from outside the box since December 2013.
In its significance and its tension-popping explosivity, Kompany's goal recalled the header at the other end of the pitch against Manchester United in April 2012 that provided the spur for City to go on and win their first title in the Premier League era. He celebrated this goal with the same kind of abandon, leaping into the air beside the corner flag in the stadium's northeast corner before sprawling himself on his back and allowing himself to be smothered with kisses by Bernardo Silva.
In the stands, there was an explosion of joy and relief. When the television cameras landed on Guardiola, he was in an almost messianic pose, standing on the touchline with his open-palmed hands in the air, a sea of limbs behind him.
What had he been thinking as Kompany lined up his shot, Guardiola was asked afterward. "Don't shoot, Vinny," he replied. A clip of a postmatch exchange between Kompany and Sergio Aguero revealed that the Argentinian had been thinking exactly the same thing. It was, Guardiola said, "an incredible goal."
Kompany's goal -- the 100th City have scored in front of their home fans this season -- was his reward for a characteristically influential performance. Aside from a wild challenge on Maddison, for which he was booked, he defended with carefully controlled aggression, keeping City's back four high up the pitch and preventing the dangerous Jamie Vardy from turning with the ball and running at him. Not for nothing, he has successfully supplanted John Stones from City's starting XI on knife-edge nights such as this.
The home side came within inches of taking the lead shortly after the half hour, when Aguero's header bounced down off the crossbar and was clawed off the line by Schmeichel, but as the game wore on, the tension swelled. Early in the second half, Guardiola could be seen scurrying in front of a bemused ball boy to retrieve the ball for a quick throw-in. The home fans alternated between anxious silence and howls of desperation. Then Kompany delivered them.
On a night of multiple parallels, Brendan Rodgers found himself with a second chance to win the title for Liverpool after his agonising near-miss as Reds manager in 2014. The Liverpool fans nervously watching on TV could not have faulted the Leicester manager or his side for their efforts.
The 72nd minute almost provided the ultimate moment of déjà vu when Kompany slipped while in possession in a manner that recalled Steven Gerrard's fateful tumble against Chelsea in 2014, but to a soundtrack of gasps around the ground, he recovered the situation, and City were able to clear.
There was one last scare when Leicester substitute Kelechi Iheanacho, a City old boy, wastefully squandered a clear sight of goal with three minutes remaining. His shot from Choudhury's pass trundled apologetically wide of Ederson's goal, and Liverpool's title hopes probably went along with it.
Such has been City's superiority over their opponents that their title surge has been almost totally devoid of dramatic moments, but Kompany's goal was an instant classic. If he goes on to lift the Premier League trophy after City's final game at Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday, as he surely will, it will become an emblem for the whole campaign.
Kompany, who turned 33 last month, looked tearful after the game as his children joined him on the pitch for a lap of appreciation. The Belgium international is out of contract at the end of the season, and both he and Guardiola were coy when asked if he will be at the Etihad next season.
If this was goodbye, he could not have penned a more beautiful farewell note.